The Complete Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Spend a lot of time looking up—way up—at some of the largest living organisms on the planet

Start training your neck muscles now: When you visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks you’ll spend a lot of time looking up—way up—at some of the largest living organisms in the history of the planet.

If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, the main attractions in these twin parks in Central California are approximately 40 different sequoia groves. These behemoth trees only grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada from 4,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation and the parks are home to seven of the 10 largest trees in the world.

Amazingly these trees which stretch up to nearly 300 feet high aren’t even the tallest things in the parks. In fact, they’re positively dwarfed by geological formations like the namesake Kings Canyon, a glacial valley hemmed in by 4,000-foot-high granite walls and Sequoia’s Mount Whitney the highest point in the Lower 48 at 14,494 feet.

Located in the Southern Sierra Nevada about equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Kings Canyon and Sequoia are actually two national parks for the price of one. They share a border and a long history dating back to the early days of the conservation movement in America.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison established the country’s second national park, Sequoia, to protect the area’s namesake giants from the encroaching logging industry. Just a week later he added General Grant National Park to the roster.

In those early days, America’s first Black national park superintendent (and the only African American commissioned officer in the U.S. Army), Col. Charles Young, led efforts to build a road into Sequoia’s Giant Forest and by 1903 the landscape had opened to tourists coming in by wagon. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress established Kings Canyon National Park which absorbed the former General Grant Park. 

Today Sequoia comprises 631 square miles which include the famed Generals Highway which cuts through dense sequoia groves; Moro Rock, a climbable granite dome; the pristine Mineral King glacial valley; and Crystal Cave, a marble cavern.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bifurcated 722-square-mile Kings Canyon meanwhile sits atop Sequoia like two lopsided bunny ears: To the west, a squiggly sliver of parkland surrounds the General Grant Tree and the neighboring village and visitor center; to the east, a much larger swath of wilderness is centered around Kings Canyon proper, dotted with iconic vistas like Zumwalt Meadow, Roaring River Falls and Muir Rock. The meandering ribbon of the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway connects the two sections as it cuts through the adjacent Sequoia National Forest. 

Despite their world-famous supertall attractions, Kings Canyon and Sequoia remain blissfully crowd-free much of the year.

Tuning in to the soundscape is one of the best ways to enjoy the wilderness. Find a secluded spot, take a few steps off the trail, maybe sit down, maybe close your eyes, and just be silent and listen to the sounds of the park for a couple of minutes.

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

Plan your trip 

The parks are relatively centrally located within the state and a bit of a trek to reach from major cities: You can expect about a five-hour drive from San Francisco or a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles.

When planning your trip, note that it’s hard to generalize about the weather in these parts. There’s an enormous elevation shift from the foothills in Sequoia (as low as 1,370 feet) to the big tree groves in both parks to Sequoia’s towering Mount Whitney. As a result, temperatures can regularly drop to 30 degrees as you ascend higher through the parks. Fortunately, the NPS maintains a helpful website with forecasts for specific areas.

The foothills tend to have milder winters and hot, dry summers with average highs in July and August reaching into the upper 90s and average winter lows dropping to the mid-30s. In Sequoia’s Giant Forest and Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove summer temperatures are significantly milder usually in the mid-70s in the daytime and the 50s at night. Even if it’s scorchingly hot when you enter the parks (it has been known to hit 114 degrees) you may still need a light sweater by the time you’re surrounded by sequoias. Plan and pack accordingly—layers are your friend. 

Castle Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the winter can be peaceful and the parks look gorgeous under a blanket of fresh snow, things slow down during those months. Several roads, including 180 from Grant Grove to Cedar Grove, Mineral King Road, and Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road close due to treacherous, icy driving conditions and many of the parks’ lodging options shutter. Currently, Highway 180 to Cedar Grove is closed at the Hume gate until spring 2023.

In general, you’ll want a car in these parks. From late May through mid-September there’s also a shuttle bus system with free routes covering such areas as the Giant Forest, Moro Rock, the General Sherman Tree Trails, and Wuksachi Lodge. Meanwhile, the $20 Sequoia Shuttle (reservation required) transports guests in from the gateway town of Visalia.

Overcrowding isn’t much of a concern even during the summer high season in July and August. Avoiding crowds has a lot to do with timing. Weekdays are always more forgiving than weekends. If you can get to the entrance station before 9 a.m. you’re likely to be rewarded with ample parking at your destination

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay

The jewel in the crown of lodging options in these parts is Sequoia’s 102-room Wuksachi Lodge which features an architectural style that screams national parks lodge thanks to its native granite and oak, hickory, and cedar touches. Located 2 miles from Lodgepole Village the hotel is a perfect jumping-off point for hiking trails that lead out into Cahoon Meadow and Twin Lakes. It’s now open year-round but things can get a little dicey in the winter if you’re not used to driving in snow because it sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet; remember to pack those snow chains! Amenities in mobility- and hearing-accessible rooms include widened doorways, visual fire alarms, and phones with flashing lights.

In Kings Canyon, Grant Grove Village is home to two seasonal lodging options in the park’s western section: The 36-room John Muir Lodge (open late March to late October) includes a stone fireplace in the lobby that’s an inviting spot to cozy up next to as you plan tomorrow’s adventures.

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grant Grove Cabins, a collection of timber and tent-style cabins are open from April through October. Book early and request Cabin No. 9, one of the few with an en suite bathroom instead of a shared bathhouse, a particular luxury on those cold Sierra nights. The lodge does not have an elevator so anyone with mobility issues will want to request a room on the first floor. 

For a slightly more off-the-beaten-path option, the 21-room Cedar Grove Lodge is remotely located in Kings Canyon’s eastern wilderness. It’s only open late May through late October after the snow has melted but it rewards the intrepid with access to scenic Zumwalt Meadow, Roaring Falls, and Muir Rock.

The parks also play host to more than a dozen campsites, four open year-round: Azalea Campground, under a stand of evergreen trees near King Canyon’s Grant Grove; Potwisha Campground, set among a hot and dry oak woodland in Sequoia; Lodgepole and South Fork Campgrounds, in a remote area of the Sequoia foothills.

Park campgrounds differ wildly in terms of amenities, locations, and crowds so study the options before you go. Reservations are made available one month in advance though you can often snag a spot on the day of your visit. Most offer a few accessible campsites with amenities like paved paths to restrooms and raised fire pits for people with impaired mobility. 

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

Where to eat 

At the Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge tuck into hearty fare like pan-seared ruby-red trout and braised short ribs while taking in the Sierra views. The restaurant also serves a daily breakfast buffet. Nearby, head to the seasonal Lodgepole Café for grab-and-go picnic goodies like breakfast burritos and hot dogs.

In Kings Canyon, the seasonal Grant Grove Restaurant serves dishes like beef chili and a trout sandwich. In the park’s other section, Cedar Grove Grill is open May through mid-October and serves hearty burgers and sandwiches on the drive out to Zumwalt Meadow and Roaring River Falls.

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

Things to do

Visit the parks’ enormous trees

We know what you’re here for—very big trees! And, yes, you’ll see giant sequoias everywhere but there are a few not-to-miss standouts. In Sequoia, the General Sherman Tree ranks as the world’s largest by volume and stands 275 feet tall with a base width of 36 feet. You can access it by two trails. One runs a half-mile downhill from a parking area; it’s paved and includes a few stairs but the climb back uphill can be tiring. If you have a disability parking placard you’ll have access to a small lot on Generals Highway with a wheelchair-accessible trail.

About a five-minute drive down the road in the Giant Forest Grove you’ll reach the free Giant Forest Museum with informative exhibits about this unique landscape and the 1.2-mile Big Trees Trail which is a great option for people with limited mobility. It’s flat, paved, and easy to navigate with benches for rest stops. 

In the Grant Grove area in Kings Canyon just 1.5 miles from the visitor center you’ll meet the General Grant Tree—aka the nation’s Christmas tree—the world’s second-largest tree with a height of 268.1 feet and a base circumference of 107.5 feet. The one-third-mile paved loop trail passes through a dense collection of sequoias with other highlights including the Fallen Monarch, a hollow sequoia log wide enough to walk through, and the historic Gamlin Cabin, which dates to 1872. The trail has tactile informational signs with Braille and raised illustrations. 

Although these generals are popular especially in the summer don’t stop there: They’re a great jumping-off point for exploration. People visiting the parks will find a lot of opportunities for solitude if they’re willing to hike for even 15 minutes. The Giant Forest and Grant Grove both have miles and miles of wonderful trails that see surprisingly few hikers. On these trails, you’ll have time and space to linger, take in the evergreens’ woodsy scent, and listen for the chirps of squirrels and the calls of acorn woodpeckers, Steller’s jays, and other birds.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climb Moro Rock

Yosemite has Half Dome, Sequoia has Moro Rock—and much like its more famous cousin to the north this granite dome beckons visitors to summit its dramatic topography. While the climb up Half Dome isn’t for the faint of heart, Moro Rock can be doable for relatively in-shape visitors who can handle steep stairs. A concrete and stone path leads up more than 350 steps to postcard-perfect views out over the foothills and the San Joaquin Valley.

There are handrails much of the way so while you might not fear falling over the rather prodigious cliffs lining the trail this is still a strenuous climb made more challenging by the high elevations which top out above 6,700 feet. The climb can take as little as a half-hour but pace yourself and enjoy the experience to protect those lungs in the thinner air. In summer, keep your eyes and ears peeled for peregrine falcons nesting on the rock.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a guided horseback ride

Two stables operate within Kings Canyon. Grove Stables offers one-hour guided trail rides that loop past the General Grant tree and through a grove of giant sequoias; for an additional fee tack on a second hour through a second sequoia grove to a Sequoia Lake overlook.

The Cedar Grove Pack Station located outside Cedar Grove Village also has one- and two-hour guided trail rides but experienced riders can opt for a half-day or full-day itinerary.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy the stars

The parks are amazing after dark, once you get used to the idea. Find a wide-open space to stargaze or take long-exposure photographs of the Milky Way. During a full moon take a night hike. Just be careful out there. The parks have a 24-hour dispatch center but help is definitely less readily available if you get into trouble late at night.

If you’d rather not go it alone, the parks occasionally schedule ranger-led moonlight walks (check the events calendar). This is also a great time to listen for the distinctive hooting of great horned owls and the squeaks of bats flying overhead.

Fun fact: While 17 species of bats call these parks home only three emit sounds the human ear can hear.

Gateway towns 

If you want to spend time in the communities outside the parks’ boundaries stick to the stretch along State Route 198 that leads into Sequoia’s Ash Mountain Entrance Station. About 35 miles west of the park is Visalia, a small agricultural city in the San Joaquin Valley with handsome architecture (including an art deco post office), a boutique-filled downtown, and plenty of microbreweries. 

Even closer to the entrance station is Three Rivers Village with a surprising array of businesses dotting the foothills including local shops like Reimer’s Candies and Gifts (don’t miss the California walnut turtles), art galleries and artist studios, a nine-hole golf course, and even a jazz club.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route

If you’re driving from San Francisco slow down to enjoy the underrated Central Valley. The state’s agricultural heart boasts some surprising hot spots. Merced’s recently revitalized downtown includes the chic new Hotel El Capitan and its tasting-menu restaurant Rainbird where you can sample innovative dishes like green garlic chawanmushi (egg custard) with coal-roasted kombu. The area is also home to excellent farm stands and a rustic-chic vineyard. 

From Los Angeles, Bakersfield is a worthwhile pit stop thanks to the numerous RV parks and the country’s largest collection of Basque restaurants. Established in 1893 as a boardinghouse, the Noriega Hotel was honored with a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic Award and it’s beloved for dishes like pickled tongue.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The city’s also the birthplace of the so-called Bakersfield Sound, made popular by country artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Learn more about Nashville West at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a museum and music venue and the Kern County Museum.

By the way, I have a series of posts on Bakersfield and the Bakersfield Sound:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

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

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facts box

  • ​Location: Central California about 260 miles from San Francisco and 220 miles from Los Angeles
  • Size: 865,964 acres or 1,353 square miles 
  • Highest point: Mount Whitney, 14,494 feet 
  • Lowest point: The foothills entrance, 1,370 feet 
  • Miles of trails: 866
  • Main attraction: Sequoia groves with record-breaking trees
  • Entry fee: $35 per private vehicle for up to seven days; $30 for motorcycles; $20 for bicycles or walk-in entry; $70 for annual passes 
  • Best way to see: By car or by the free park shuttle (between May and September)
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: September, after the summer crowds leave and before the snow falls

Worth Pondering…

No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and suggestive views into history.

—John Muir, The Big Trees, Chapter 7 of The Yosemite (1912) 

The Science behind the Oldest Trees on Earth

How experts have determined that bristlecone pines, sequoias, and baobabs have stood for thousands of years

What and where are the oldest known trees on the planet?

If you include plants that can regenerate, the upper age limit could be ten thousand years or more. Such superorganisms including the famous quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove nicknamed Pando are made up of genetically identical trunks connected through a single root system that sends up new shoots over time. These clonal colonies are impossible to date with precision because the oldest decomposed long ago.

Aspen clove in Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as the Trembling Giant, Pando is located about 40 miles southeast of Richfield, Utah, the nearest town. Widely considered the world’s largest tree with one vast root system, the aspen clone is also one of the largest living organisms on the planet. Spanning roughly 106 acres within Fishlake National Forest, a sprawling patch of greenery situated in the High Plateaus of south-central Utah, Pando weighs more than 6,600 tons and contains approximately 47,000 genetically identical stems (or branches), experts say.

Pando which in Latin translates to I spread is so massive that satellite imagery shows the outline of the clone in stark contrast with the rest of the surrounding national forest; its complex network of roots is so vast that it tunnels beneath Utah State Route 25, a winding two-lane highway that slices through Pando’s center.

No one knows Pando’s exact age with some estimates dating it to the end of the last ice age or about 25,000 years ago and others going as far back as 80,000 years.

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Tree, as it’s usually known, is one of the best known live oak trees in the United States. In its more than 1,000 years, the Big Tree has survived hurricanes, fires, and even an 1864 Civil War battle that razed the rest of the town, Lamar, Texas, to the ground. With a height of 44 feet, trunk circumference of 35 feet, and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017).

Many lists of oldest trees stick to single-trunked plants that produce annual growth rings. These kinds of trees are easier to date. Scientists called dendrochronologists focus on assigning calendar years to tree rings and interpreting data within those rings. By using a hand-cranked tool called an increment borer they extract core samples without depriving the tree of strength and vigor.

Giant cypress in Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a rule, gymnosperms—flowerless plants with naked seeds—grow slower and live longer than angiosperms, flowering plants with fruits. Gymnosperms include ginkgo and every kind of conifer—including yews, pines, firs, spruces, cedars, redwoods, podocarps, araucarias and cypresses. Roughly 25 gymnosperm species can live 1,000 years or longer. The cypress family contains the most millennials but the longest-lived species is a pine with an effective age limit of five millennia. By contrast, eight centuries is extremely old for an oak, an angiosperm. And only one kind of flowering plant, a baobab, has been positively dated beyond one millennium.

During research for his book Elderflora: A Modern History of Ancient Trees, Jared Farmer learned a lot about the world’s oldest growers. Here are some of the most exceptional specimens.

The longest-lived gymnosperms

Bristlecone pine at Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva, ≥4,900 years

Until 1964, the oldest tree ever known grew in a cirque on Wheeler Peak in Nevada’s Snake Range in what is now Great Basin National Park. After a graduate student researcher tried and failed to extract a complete core sample, he decided to produce a stump. This scientific desecration haunted him the rest of his career even though he cut it down with permission of a forest ranger. Originally labeled WPN-114 this pine was posthumously renamed Prometheus.

The oldest survivor with a name is Methuselah which grows in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of eastern California. This pine was originally cored by tree-ring scientist Edmund Schulman who made bristlecones famous through his 1958 article in National Geographic. The innermost rings on Schulman’s core samples are extremely suppressed and partly eroded making dating difficult. The oldest extracted ring from Methuselah might be from 2490 or 2555 BC. In any case this tree is well over 4,500 years old today.

Methuselah’s location is no longer marked by the U.S. Forest Service but anyone who hikes the trail will be close to it and many other living beings as old as the pyramids of Giza. In the same population an unnamed bristlecone even older than Methuselah grows and it is known only to an inner circle of dendrochronologists. Secrecy provides protection from vandals who would carve names on it, relic hunters who would take cones from it, and photographers who would inadvertently damage the fragile soil.

In a deeper sense, the identity of the true oldest living bristlecone is simply unknowable. That’s not just because no one has the time—or the funding or the imperative—to do an exhaustive search throughout the Great Basin. The effort would be futile. On most ancient bristlecones, the oldest wood has long ago been ablated, speck by speck, by desert winds.

Giant sequoia in Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Giant sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, ≥3,266 years

As soon as Anglo-Americans encountered giant sequoia in the midst of the California gold rush, they acted in paradoxical ways: protecting them while also cutting down trophy specimens for traveling exhibits. By counting rings on stumps, people knew in the 1850s that sequoias can live for thousands of years.

After the Civil War, two of the largest protected sequoias became known as the General Grant and the General Sherman. A rivalry ensued between Fresno County, home of the Grant and Tulare County, home of the Sherman. In 1931, the California Chamber of Commerce announced an unscientific verdict: Although Sherman was—and still is—the world’s largest tree, Grant would count as the world’s oldest. Confusingly, tourists routinely referred to another monumental tree, Yosemite National Park’s Grizzly Giant as the age champion based on its incomparably gnarled appearance.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1990s, a forest ecologist created a mathematical formula for estimating a sequoia’s age based on the volume of its bole or the trunk below the crown. He tested his formula on hundreds of stumps in Converse Basin, the one large grove of big trees that had been devastated by industrial logging. Here, many trimillennials including the oldest ever known at 3,266 years or more had been leveled to make grape stakes and shingles. The ecologist disproved for good the old assumption that biggest means oldest. By his estimation, the General Sherman was only 2,150 years old and the Grizzly Giant was a shocking 1,790 years young.

The most senior of these trees probably lacks a name because of its relative smallness. And it may be newly dead. In 2020 and 2021, megafires devastated the southern Sierra, killing up to 20 percent of all mature sequoias.

Worth Pondering…

In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws… to represent themselves. Nothing is holier nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

—Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)

10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2023

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

It shows considerable wisdom to know what you want in life.

—P.D. James

English novelist Phyllis Dorothy James, writing as P.D. James, introduced Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh in her 1962 debut novel Cover Her Face. This insightful observation by a secondary character comes at the end of The Private Patient, the 14th and final novel in James’ popular series published nearly half a century later in 2008. The full quote notes that it takes wisdom to determine what you want, “and then to direct all your energies towards getting it.” James could very well have been reflecting on her own lengthy career as a successful novelist when she penned this scene which offers the reminder that achieving a happy life requires both thoughtful contemplation and focused sustained action. 

As a great thinker once said, “June is bustin’ out all over.” I’m certainly feeling this. The garden of life is ripe with new possibilities, new floral fragrances, and new reasons to be outside. It’s a great month to travel in an RV. Summer presents unlimited road trip possibilities, doesn’t it?

So put on some SPF (I admittedly never do) and live your best life.

If life is a highway, I’m going to drive it all day long—or at least for a few hours and then stop to get some rest. Sleep is so important.

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

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Gawk at the biggest tree on Earth

Because it is the world’s largest tree in terms of volume, the General Sherman Tree is, without a doubt, one of the most well-known attractions in Sequoia National Park. The enormous Sequoia which now stands 275 feet in height but is constantly growing was given its name after the American army leader William Sherman. The width of the tree’s trunk at its base is an astonishing 36 feet and it continues to be wide as it rises above the earth.

General Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sequoia grove of Giant Forest, home of General Sherman, is also the headquarters of other large trees not seen in any other parts of the US. Meanwhile, Converse Basin Grove is home to the 269-foot Boole Tree, the sixth-largest in the country in terms of volume. Another famous tree in the park, albeit it’s already fallen, is the Tunnel Log, a tree that can be driven through.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sequoia National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. 300 limestone caves carved over 250 million years ago

If you’re worried about overheating in New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, rest assured: Things cool down quick inside the 100+ millennia-old limestone caves that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park which you can explore on a self-guided tour or a ranger-led tour for an additional fee.

The 357,480-square-foot Big Room—the largest single cave chamber in the US—is the most popular cave drawing some 300,000 visitors each year. Other areas, like the Hall of the White Giant and the Spider Cave require crawling. If you’re visiting between May and October stick around for the Bat Flight Program when hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave at dusk to forage for food.

Make a reservation online at a cost of $1 per ticket prior to your visit and purchase an entry pass upon arrival in the park. Kids under 16 get in free while adults must pay a fee of $15 per person. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Out of one beautiful form into another

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. Jagged peaks tell the story of its eruptive past while hot water continues to shape the land.

Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northeastern California has the four types of volcanoes found on Earth—cinder cones, composite, lava, and shield volcanoes—with 300 active domes. Lassen has a fraction of Yosemite’s visitors but has many similar landscapes and geothermal sites. You’ll come across sulfur vents, fumaroles, mud pots, wildflower meadows, mountain lakes, waterfalls, lava tube caves, and boiling hot springs. Don’t miss the Bumpass Hell trail leading to the largest of the eight hydrothermal areas and the easy-to-reach Kings Creek Falls.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 150 miles of trails in the park, 700 flowering plants, and 250 vertebrates. Hike the Cinder Cone Volcano in the park’s Butte Lake section and you’ll see breathtaking 360-degree views of the Painted Dunes and the volcano’s crater. The most famous volcano in the park, Lassen Peak, also offers skiing in the winter.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu natural bridges

Natural Bridges National Monument sits 6,500 feet above sea level, is home to a variety of plants and animals, and is the oldest National Park Service (NPS) site in the state of Utah. Offering the chance to explore three natural bridges, Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu were formed where streams eroded the canyon walls. The monument was established in 1908. This NPS site is a great out-of-the-way find. 

Natural bridges are different from arches in their formation; carved over streams that have eroded them as opposed to arches which are formed by seeping water and frost. Here, you have beautiful bridges over a stream bed which changes in appearance according to time of day, time of year, and viewpoint. Since the bridges are off the beaten path there is a better opportunity for an uncrowded, quiet tour of a unique landscape.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Park

President Theodore Roosevelt © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Living history performance of President Theodore Roosevelt

On June 23, 2013, Grand Canyon National Park will host President Theodore Roosevelt Salutes the National Park Service. This special program is a living history portrayal of the 26th President of the United States as performed by Joe Wiegand at 8:30 pm, Sunday, June 23, 2013 at McKee Amphitheater located on the South Rim behind Park Headquarters near Parking Lot A. 

Joe Wiegand entertains audiences nationwide with his portrayal of President Theodore Roosevelt. As Theodore Roosevelt, Joe offers his audiences a unique, one-man show bursting with adventure, laughter, and inspiration. Enjoy Theodore Roosevelt’s adventures as rancher, Rough Rider, and father of six in the White House. Relive the establishment of America’s great national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife reserves. Hear the amazing stories of the frail young boy who built his body and dedicated himself to the Vigorous Life and the Square Deal. From bear hunts to the Panama Canal, from Africa to the Amazon, Theodore Roosevelt’s delightful stories come to life.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt, considered by many to have been America’s Conservationist President, protected approximately 230 million acres of public land during his presidency. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Grand Canyon and said, “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world… Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness.”  

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jasper makes list of top national parks in the world

Jasper has been named one of the 30 best national parks across the globe. Outside, an online publication has included the picturesque spot on its list of must see destinations. Jasper is the only Canadian entry.

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of wild and scenic. It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff.

Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats making it a popular tourist destination for travelers to explore.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jasper SkyTram gives you 50 miles of views from 7,472 feet up Whistlers Mountain. As a dark-sky preserve, the park strives to eliminate any light that could interfere with views of the universe at night making it a destination for stargazers and astronomers. It’s also a fantastic road trip destination: The Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most scenic drives, features more than 100 ancient glaciers and a glass-floored observation walkway 920 feet above Sunwapta Canyon.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Centuries old conflict decided on St. Simons Island

Wandering around Fort Frederica National Monument offers both a step back to the very beginnings of Georgia’s colonial history and the chance to absorb what continues to make this area magical—the river, the marsh, the tides, the uncompromising beauty of St. Simons Island. While the fort played a pivotal role in Georgia’s history—the 1742 victory of its British troops over Spanish soldiers ensured its future as a British colony—what remains is largely underground.

You’ll want to track down a ranger to get a real appreciation of the garrison and a sense of what makes this site special. It’s the stories of the people. Fort Fred was a military installation and a fort but it also was a village. There are always going to be stories of people’s lives—the adventures, the challenges, the drama.

>> Get more tips for visiting Fort Frederica National Monument

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Historic gold rush town

Jacksonville is a historic Gold Rush town that earns the title, Heart of the Southern Oregon Wine Region. The Schmidt Family Vineyard is an excellent option with delicious wine and food as well as gorgeous gardens and vineyards.

Lining the main street are numerous independently-owned shops and restaurants that are just waiting for you to discover them. Antiquing is especially popular with plenty of unique furniture, decor, and clothing finds.

The town is also home to annual events each month. Enjoy the live music at the summer-long Britt Music & Arts Festival, the Jacksonville Wine Cruise in May, and the city-wide Garage Sale in September. There is also plenty to do in the great outdoors including jet boat adventures and hiking trails. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Jacksonville

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Museum of Appalachia

Located in Clinton, Tennessee, the Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences.

Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine we’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Museum of Appalachia

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Grand Canyon Star Party

Each summer, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona invites visitors to watch “an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies” dance above some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth during its Star Party which will take place from June 10 through June 17 in 2023.

Events begin on both the North and South Rims at 8 p.m. but according to the National Park Service (NPS) the best viewing is after 9 p.m.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party,” the NPS said on its website.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each night of the event, park rangers on the South Rim will lead tours of the constellations at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. and will host a night sky photography workshop at 9:30 p.m. Throughout the week, various speakers are slated to hold nightly presentations at 8 p.m. starting with park ranger Ravis Henry who will discuss how the stars are seen through the Navajo culture lens. Other speakers include NASA scientist Julie McEnery who will speak about the next NASA flagship telescope, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope which is scheduled to launch in May 2027 and Dr. Vishnu Reedy, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona will lecture about how astronomers mitigate the threats of meteor impacts.

On the North Rim, the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona will set up telescopes on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge and guide visitors in identifying constellations.

The 2023 Star Party is a free and open to the general public. The park entrance fee is good on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.

The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 pm and many telescopes come down after 11 pm; however, on nights with clear, calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, when pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

5 Best Things to do this Spring in America

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

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

1. Attend a spring festival

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

International Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon, Georgia

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

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

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon

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

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Rayne loves frogs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne Frog Festival, Rayne, Louisiaa

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

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

Charleston home tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Festival of Houses and Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

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

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

Ostrich Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ostrich Festival, Chandler, Arizona

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

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

2. Plan a spring road trip

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

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

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

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

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

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

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

3. Back to Nature

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

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

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

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

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

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

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Forest, Kentucky

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

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

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of America

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

Food Festivals

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

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

5. Go hiking

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

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

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

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

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park, California

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

Courthouse Towers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail, Arches National Park, Utah

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

The Ultimate Guide to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are filled with a vast expanse of nature, dozens of the world’s largest trees, and thousands of miles of backcountry trails

A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.

— President Theodore Roosevelt

Giant Sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume, are found only on California’s western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These majestic trees were the impetus behind the creation of the United States’ second and third national parks: Sequoia National Park and General Grant National Park (later expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park).

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoias can grow to be upwards of a 26-story building in height and over 3,000 years old. They were named Sequoiadendron giganteum, or Sequoia for short, after the Native American man, Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee’s system of writing. In the mid-1800s, Western settlers came across these trees and were awe-struck by their grandeur. Not surprisingly, the largest sequoias were given names of monumental American figures of that time including Lincoln, General Sherman, and General Grant, as well as a sequoia known only as the “President.”

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the largest tree stumps in the world is known as the Mark Twain Tree. Embodying the American spirit of adventure and storytelling, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down and sent off in cross sections to be displayed in museums in New York and London. Although the parks were created to stop logging, the Mark Twain Tree was cut down, right or wrong, to showcase these wonders of the world and educate the public. Standing before a cross-section and looking at its many rings, we are offered a different perspective on the age and incredible scale of these ancient specimens.

So here we have two separate national parks joined at the hip, very different and with one big thing in common—size. Sequoia National Park has the largest tree on Earth by volume stationed within its boundaries its name is General Sherman. Kings Canyon is home to one of North America’s largest (and most beautiful) canyons, and to the world’s second-largest tree, General Grant.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Largest Tree in the World

Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree in the world which stands 275 feet high with a volume of 52,508 cubic feet. Though far from being the world’s tallest tree, this sequoia’s mass is unrivaled across the planet. Named after American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, the General Sherman Tree is a highly visited feature of the National Park System.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently, fires in the area of the Giant Forest sequoia grove made it necessary to take additional steps to protect General Sherman and other giant sequoias. General Sherman’s incredible 36-foot-diameter base and nearly 103-foot circumference were wrapped in foil up to 10–15 feet high to help shield its already thick bark from potential flames. Luckily, a recent program of prescribed fires kept this massive sequoia and its neighbors protected, though, unfortunately, other groves in the surrounding Sequoia National Forest did not fare so well.

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This increased threat to the world’s largest tree was brought to national attention and it was used as an opportunity to highlight controversy over its name. One periodical called for the tree to be “saved and then renamed.” General Sherman’s tactics during and after the Civil War were indeed nothing short of brutal. His command oversaw the mass killing of Native Americans and the near extinction of buffalo.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Critics justifiably highlight the paradox inherent in sequoias being named after a Cherokee man while the pinnacle exemplar of the species is ironically given the name of a general who oversaw the mass slaughter and displacement of Native Americans.

Is the answer to America’s past to revise or rename everything that is challenging or can we continue to rationally face these difficult aspects of our history without needing to destroy or rename national landmarks?

Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of canceling history, it is important to have the past inform the present to avoid making similar mistakes. It is the trees themselves that are great regardless of any given name or historical figure with whom they are associated. The giant sequoias were here long before American colonization, and, God willing, they will remain for millennia to come. In Shakespeare’s famous words, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Protecting the Trees

On September 25, 1890, Sequoia National Park was created by President Harrison to protect sequoias from private industry. General Grant National Park was created one week later to protect additional groves in the area. Expanded and renamed Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, the park is home to the second largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. Named after President of the United States, and General, Ulysses S. Grant, the tree stands 268 feet tall with a volume of 46,608 cubic feet.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Grant established the National Park Service. This act alone makes it fitting that a giant sequoia is named in his honor. Grant famously oversaw the end of the Civil War at Appomattox, where, on April 9, 1865, a peace agreement was signed with General Lee and no prisoners of war were taken. In 1868, Grant was elected president of a nation still deeply wounded by domestic bloodshed. President Eisenhower made the General Grant Tree a national shrine in 1956 to honor all those who have lost their lives serving our country. It is the only living shrine in the United States.

Castle Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature’s Mightiest Survivors

Everyone who stands at the base of a mighty sequoia for the first time is changed by the experience. These gigantic trees, thousands of years in the making, command a feeling of great reverence. Their presence is felt in the stillness and peace of their groves. While recent fires have threatened and taken the lives of many sequoias, others have survived through many flames long since extinguished. Sequoias are some of nature’s best survivors. They have a very thick skin, so to speak, with bark that can be up to 1.5 feet thick, shielding the living tissue underneath.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fire plays an essential role in the growth of sequoias and the health of the forest. Through fire come renewal and the opportunity for new sequoias to plant and have the sunlight to grow. Fire clears out natural buildup on the forest floor, making way for new life. Fire severity increases in potential when small fires are prevented from doing this necessary work. Native Americans managed the forest with fire and the National Park Service has learned to do the same with controlled, “prescribed” burns. Sequoia seeds successfully grow into seedlings thanks to the mineral soil cleared, and enriched, by fire.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We can strive to protect these beautiful trees out of genuine love, or attachment, but we don’t own nature, and whether we like it or not, we aren’t in control of its cycles. 2014 marked the most severe drought in 122 years, but that does not mean it is wholly unnatural, or “man-made.” Humanity impacts nature in a variety of ways but it is part of the deception of our time to assume that we are to blame for most of the frightening occurrences or extreme events that happen in nature.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The evidence is written in the rings of trees that were here long before us. Giant sequoias have survived as long as they have because they have learned to live through and grow from adversity. They are known as a “pioneer species” because they are among the first to take root after a fire occurs. There is a humbling and regenerative wisdom amongst these trees that seems to calmly, yet powerfully, whisper, “This too shall pass.” Edwin Markham, American poet of the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote:

The sequoias belong to the silences of the millenniums. Many of them have seen a hundred human generations rise, give off their little clamors and perish. They seem indeed to be forms of immortality standing here among the transitory shapes of time.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 

Sequoia National Park: 404,063 acres

Kings Canyon National Park: 461,901 acres

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Date Established: 

Sequoia National Park: September 25, 1890

Kings Canyon National Park: March 4, 1940  

Location: Central California

Park Elevation: 1,370 feet-14,494 feet

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the parks got their names: 

Sequoia National Park: This park was named after the giant Sequoia tree! The naming of the sequoia tree has a complicated past—some stories say that it commemorates a Cherokee Indian Chief named Sequoya who is well known for giving a phonetic alphabet to his nation; others record that it was named after the tree genus of its close relative—the redwood tree—which was named after the Latin word sequoiadendron giganteum

Kings Canyon National Park: Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in America—1.5 miles deep—and was named for the Kings River that flows through the base of it creating the canyon. The Kings River also flows through Sequoia and Sierra National Forests.

Eleven Range Overlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic sites in the park: 

Sequoia National Park: Hands down this honor goes to the General Sherman Tree—the largest tree in the world by volume—so iconic that it was chosen by the National Park Service to represent all trees in all of the parks on the iconic Arrowhead logo insignia. It is estimated that General Sherman is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. A new, well-established trail to the iconic site was completed in 2006, allowing more space for visitors to wander and to better appreciate the massive size of the tree. The 0.8-mile out and back hike is a breeze, but do go slow—the elevation at the parking lot is 7,000 feet and you most likely climbed by car to get there so you might be a bit light headed on the short walk due to the elevation change. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kings Canyon National Park: The views on the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway took our breath away. It is these views that Sierra Club photographer Ansel Adams captured and shared with the U.S. government to successfully lobby for national park status. Winding down the 50-mile mountain pass you will see wildflowers, forests of trees, sloped mountains, rock formations, and at the base of it all, the Kings River—the stepping off point to the wilds of the Sierra Nevada wilderness.  

Mount Eisen, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know…

Sequoia is America’s second national park. It was the first national park to be created to protect a living organism, the giant sequoia tree, which at a time of the park formation was vulnerable to complete destruction due to logging endeavors. 

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest tree in the world by volume is in Sequoia National Park, it’s name is General Sherman. The largest of the sequoias are as tall (on average) as a 26-story building. 

The world’s second largest tree by volume, the General Grant Tree, can be found in Kings Canyon National Park. It is not only America’s official Christmas tree, but also a national shrine dedicated to U.S. veterans in 1956. It is estimated to be 2,000 years old.

Mt. Whitney, standing at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states and is located on the eastern side of Sequoia National Park.  

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Giant Sequoia Tree’s Guide to Life

Have a thick skin

Stand up to the heat

Don’t let things bug you

Heal your own wounds

Enjoy your days in the sun

Strive for balance

Hold yourself up high

Worth Pondering…

No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the Sequoia, or opens such impressive and suggestive views into history.

—John Muir, The Big Trees, Chapter 7 of The Yosemite (1912) 

Extraordinary Places

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Explore my list and start planning your next RV road trip today.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

There are, essentially, three ways to experience the Grand Canyon: The more remote and less crowded North Rim, the more developed South Rim with more amenities, and the rigorous Rim to Rim hike that lets you experience both. Another important thing to remember is that it’s incredibly difficult to take a good picture that captures the size and scale of the canyon.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States. Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock-forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, and a vast array of geologic features and rock types. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground with 496 full-hookup sites, and a brand new Lodge. The Lakeside Cabins and Eagle Cottages are also available for overnight stays. Longleaf pines and the local palmetto forest surround the four “woods cabins”. Remaining “lakeside cabins” along Lake Shelby offer swimming, fishing, and sunrise walks right outside your front door.

Related: Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that encourage visitors to explore its nine distinct ecosystems. Enjoy the serenity of Gulf Oak Ridge trail as you stroll underneath Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Take a bike ride on Rosemary Dunes. If you’re hoping to see an Alligator, explore Gopher Tortoise trail along the edge of Lake Shelby. A majority of the trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s proximity to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley, Fairhope, and Mobile provides Gulf State Park with several retail and restaurant options to choose from. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, Weeks Bay Reserve, The USS Alabama, and Meaher State Park are all within driving distance.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

This great Navajo Nation valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s about 16 miles from Bluff to the eastern entrance on the right of Valley of the Gods, a miniature version of Monument Valley without the crowds. Its mesas and spires are formed of the same Cedar Mesa sandstone as the somewhat larger formations at Monument Valley. The 17-mile loop drive on a dirt road is suitable for most vehicles in good weather. Drive this beautiful, lonely loop—though not in a large RV and not towing a trailer. Heavy rains often make this road impassable. Valley of the Gods is also a good place to dry camp.

Related: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

The loop finishes on Highway 261 (paved) just south of the descent from the Moki Dugway and north of the turnoff for Goosenecks State Park. Highway 261 will take you south back to U.S. 163.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. While you could make it a day trip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it.

Your itinerary includes the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (established 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You’ll be consuming a lot of meat so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in the store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad—because you should probably get some greens in.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. This “little city with a big heart” as the town slogan goes retains much of its wild cowboy roots and will show you an entirely different perspective on Texas. Check out the Jail Museum for its take on Norman castellated architecture (a popular style for jails during the period; it was built in the mid-1800s). Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also has RV camping, an on-site swimming pool, and a fishing hole.

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

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. Most of Lake Powell along with Rainbow Bridge National Monument is located in Utah. It is a major vacation spot that around two million people visit every year.

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

Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made reservoir by maximum water capacity in the US behind Lake Mead storing 24,322,000 acre-feet of water when full. However, due to high water withdrawals for human and agricultural consumption and because of subsequent droughts in the area, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times in terms of volume of water, depth, and surface area.

Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam which led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. It stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet in diameter. A fence protects the shallow roots of the Sherman Tree. Help protect the tree by staying on the paved trail.

Related: The Wonderful National Parks of the West

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two trails lead to the Sherman Tree. Parking for the Main Trail is off Wolverton Road (between the Sherman Tree and Lodgepole); just follow the signs. The half-mile trail has a few stairs and is paved. As you walk, you’ll enter the Giant Forest sequoia grove. Exhibits along the trail explain the natural history of giant sequoias.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of sequoias grow in the Giant Forest sequoia grove. The Congress Trail, a paved two-mile loop that begins near the Sherman Tree offers excellent opportunities to see notable trees. Big Trees Trail, a one-mile loop around a lush meadow has interpretive exhibits about the natural history of giant sequoias. For a longer walk, explore the many miles of trails in the area. Beyond the Giant Forest, more sequoia groves await.

Visit the world’s second-largest tree, the General Grant Tree in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is immense—nearly 800,000 acres—and infinitely variable. It can seem unwelcoming even brutal during the heat of summer. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation come together in the park. Few places more vividly illustrate the contrast between “high” and “low” deserts. Below 3,000 feet the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert) occupying the eastern half of the park is dominated by the abundant creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small stands of spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the “promised land”. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.”

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home from about A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the US.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. It has 150 rooms plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features.

Forsyth Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park is a large city park that occupies 30 acres in the historic district of Savannah. The park is bordered by Gaston Street on the North, Drayton Street on the East, Park Avenue on the South, and Whitaker Street on the West.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park contains walking paths, a café, a children’s play area, a Fragrant Garden for the blind, a large fountain, tennis courts, basketball courts, areas for soccer and Frisbee, and a home field for Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club. From time to time, concerts are held at Forsyth Park. Standing in the middle of the park with the pathway wrapping around it lies the Confederate Memorial Statue. This work of art was donated by the Monroe County Courthouse to commemorate those volunteers who gave their lives fighting for the Confederacy. Surrounded by a fence, it is protected to sustain its culture and longevity.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!

—Donovan Campbell

From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

Read more: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

America the Beautiful: The National Parks

63 national parks draw millions of visitors a year to unique natural wonders and unforgettable terrains

In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City and was so struck with inspiration at the summer scene that he immediately composed a tune.

A decade later on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.

From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events but also in the natural splendor of the land spurring several conservation efforts including the creation of the National Parks System. Wilderness areas for people to enjoy the rugged beauty were set aside while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include a shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States and is protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park

Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Worth Pondering…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

—Catharine Lee Bates

Ghost Wright: On the Future of AI

The Ghost in the machine

Meet Ghost Wright, my new writer. His first article appears below. But before I go on, let me be honest with you (as I always am). Even though Ghost Wright is a fairly capable writer (more on this later), I detest him. I loathe him. Okay, I mean it: I detest and loath Ghost Writer.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s why: Ghost Writer wants to make me and all my writer friends, go the way of the dinosaur. He wants to put us out of business. And he is no friend of yours, either, which you may figure out as you read on.

Ghost Wright is, indeed, a writer (of sorts). He (or “she” or “it”—pick one) writes articles on any subject a writer or publisher requests for a dollar or two (I used the free version) each using artificial intelligence (AI)—10 times faster than a human, maybe 20 times faster. For example, for a story about how to back up an RV, I can write it myself, or “Ghost Wright” can do it in a few minutes for a fraction of the time required to research the topic and write the first draft followed by several revisions.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright only exists in cyberspace. At this very moment, I bet he is writing thousands of articles for publishers, bloggers, advertising agencies, and “content creators”—anyone who needs editorial or advertising copy. I call him Ghost Wright because he/she/it is a ghostwriter on steroids. And, I’ll tell you a little secret. When starting down this AI road, the first task I assigned to my still unnamed “ghost writer” was best name for an AI writing tool using a “friendly tone”. The Blog Post Wizard generated close to a dozen friendly names including Publisho, Scribbly, Write Out Loud, Ghost Write, and Blog Fast. As I kept coming back to Ghost Write the bells chimed and the angels sang sounds of praise. Returning to Earth, Ghost Write seemed the perfect name for my phantom writer. But he doesn’t really have a name because he does not exist in real life.

A ghost-like setting? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright at work

To give you an idea of Ghost Wright’s skills, I asked him to write an article with this headline: “Learn how America’s national parks got their names”. Below is Ghost Wright’s lead paragraph exactly as he “wrote” it in minute or two.

“National parks in the United States were created by acts of Congress and named by local people. These names usually reflect the natural characteristics of an area such as a river, mountain range, or gorge. For example, Zion National Park was named after the nearby Zion Canyon in Utah.”

Following this lead paragraph, Ghost Write selected a number of national parks and spit out the origins of each.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The park’s namesake, Ebenezer Bryce, was an early settler in southern Utah who had a large influence on the area’s development. He and his many descendants helped found natural landmarks like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park (which was also named for one of Bryce’s grandchildren). Since its inception in 1923, this park has been visited by millions of tourists every year; it’s still a popular tourist destination today!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

”Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona and established in 1919, is the fifth-largest national park in the United States. Stretching 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, it contains some of the most iconic landscapes on Earth. The Grand Canyon has been around for 4 billion years but only received its official name after being officially recognized as a national park in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson.

The name “Grand Canyon” was given by John Wesley Powell during his second expedition down the Colorado River through what is now known as Marble Canyon on August 27th, 1869 (and yes, he named it before he even knew how big it was). He described it as being “one mile deep”

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

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The name of the national park comes from the mist that hangs over the mountains. The mist is caused by cold air moving over warm air, a phenomenon known as adiabatic cooling. In this case, it happens when humid air from the Gulf of Mexico moves northward into a region where temperatures are colder than average. The warm and cool air mix together to form clouds which produce fog or mist when they reach ground level.

This happens often in Great Smoky Mountains National Park because there’s plenty of cold weather surrounding it: In wintertime, temperatures can drop below freezing even on sunny days; whereas during summertime they may hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This park is named for the petrified wood that can be found there. Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, it’s a great place to go hiking or camping. The park also offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, including bighorn sheep and black bears.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is located in California, a state that’s known for having some of the biggest trees in the country.

The park was named after the Sequoia tree and the Kings River. In fact, it was established only two years after Yellowstone National Park (which you may have heard of before), making it one of America’s first national parks!

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot has changed since the park was established in 1890: now there are over 400 units across America! But these two remain special because they’re home to some truly massive trees like General Sherman—which is more than 1,000 years old!”

The facts and specifics produced by the current generation of AI models including Ghost Write are not checked or verified. While it may be okay sometimes, at other times it can be absolutely wrong or so wishy-washy you can’t figure out what he’s saying.

Future generations may integrate fact checking but it will be awhile for commercial AI to incorporate this. So every AI-produced piece of writing has to have every fact and statement checked for accuracy, relevance, and context.

Ghost Write is a writing assistant and not a fact-checker. I still need to go through and correct the truthfulness of Ghost Write produced content.

Fact checking of the above article generated by Ghost Write uncovered numerous inconsistencies, incomplete information, and errors.

Several examples follow:

There is no evidence that Zion National Park was named by one of Ebenezer Bryce’s grandchildren. Zion was named by Mormon pioneer, Isaac Behunin in 1863. He thought it so peaceful that he named it Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Since its inception in 1923” is a misleading statement and only partially correct. In fact, Bryce Canyon became a national monument on June 8, 1923 and on February 25, 1928 Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

Grand Canyon is NOT the fifth-largest national park; it is the eleventh-largest at 3,021 square miles.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many species of wildlife can be viewed in Petrified Forest National Park but don’t expect to see either big horn sheep or black bears. Some of the many species of animals found in the park include 16 varieties of lizards and snakes, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit, bobcat, mule deer, and 258 bird species.

General Sherman tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base, Sherman Tree is considerably older than 1,000 years. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated to be around 2,200 to 2,700 years old.

NOTE: This article was NOT written by a real live person. It was 100 percent written using artificial intelligence by a fictional writer I call Ghost Write. A human “content creator” with minimum writing skills and virtually no knowledge of the subject could turn out articles like this all day long, good enough for search engines to interpret as real. Alas, these “content creators” are doing it 24/7 with one purpose: to attract visitors to a website or blog to earn money. I decided from the get-go not to monetize rvingwithrex.com.

RVs on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may have seen their work. In articles about RVing, you may notice that something seems wrong. The “writer” uses an RVing term improperly or offers advice that you know is wrong or at least written awkwardly, not like a knowledgeable RVer would write it.

And, to a website publisher’s or blogger’s joy, the articles written using such artificial intelligence are done in a way that pleases Google, so they stand a good chance of ranking high in search results.

An RV traveling on Newfound Gap Road, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My articles at rvingwithrex.com, on the other hand, are thoroughly researched and written for RVers. They may be rated lower because I do not play the game “SEO first, quality of content second.” SEO = Search Engine Optimization, i.e., more traffic to a website or web page from search engines.

I have posted it here to illustrate how easy it is to populate a website or blog with relevant content that attracts readers but generally offers only mediocre advice and information.

Ghost Writers? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So guess what you get when you search a particular subject written by artificial intelligence? You get low quality and often incorrect information.

Again, the above article was written in three minutes using artificial intelligence, not by a human. Would you have known if you read it elsewhere without any notice that it was the product of an algorithm? To read a real article on how national parks got their names, click here.

Okay, now the good news: Ghost Write will NOT write for rvingwithrex.com! Ghost Write will NOT run me outta Dodge! Be assured that all content on this site is researched for accuracy and written by the author.

Worth Pondering…

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

National Park Trails You’ll Want to Hike This Year

Explore the best trails in some of the world’s most beautiful parks

Each year, the American Hiking Society celebrates National Trails Day on the first Saturday in June. On that day thousands of people across the country head out on their favorite hiking route to enjoy a walk in the woods where they get the chance to reconnect with nature along the way. Others donate their time to help build new trails or provide maintenance on those that already exist.

Hiking the Blue Mesa Trail in Petrified Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a chance for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and other outdoor enthusiasts to show their appreciation for the more than 200,000 miles of recreational trails in the U.S. Some of the absolute best hiking trails are found inside America’s national parks many of which are tailor-made for exploring on foot. With so many trails to choose from, it is difficult to pick which ones are the very best. Here are 10 national park trails that belong to your must-hike itinerary.

Know your limits, pace yourself, and pay attention to how you are feeling. Your safety is your responsibility. Your tomorrow depends on the decisions that you make today.

Hiking Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park offers some of the most unique landscapes that you’ll find anywhere and one of the best trails to explore that environment on is the 3-mile long Navajo Loop. Starting at Sunset Point and continuing to the main amphitheater this trail takes hikers past some of the more scenic elements in the entire park. Beware of falling rocks though as this trail can be a bit treacherous at times. 

Hiking the Boardwalk Loop in Congaree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Boardwalk Loop in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

This hike, though it’s really more of a walk, features an elevated boardwalk through old-growth swampland. Though the lush, green trees are beautiful in their own right the trail really shines at night (literally!) when thousands of fireflies come out and fill the area. For photographers, the trail is exceptionally beautiful at sunrise when both the boardwalk and bald cypress trees take on golden early-morning hues. Wildlife like deer and wild pigs can also be seen in the area for those willing to sit silently for a few minutes Mosquito repellant is a must, especially in the summer months.

Hiking the Blue Mesa Loop in Petrified Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

For a trail that’s only one mile total, the Blue Mesa loop in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is filled with immense and impressive scenery. Home to two of the park’s signature sights, colorful badlands, and gigantic petrified logs, it’s an easy and accessible way to experience the overwhelming beauty of this underrated park. It starts off along a paved trail atop the mesa before zig-zagging down into a canyon of blue- and purple-hued badlands. It loops through a sea of kaleidoscopic petrified wood whose twinkling blues and purples make them look like bejeweled boulders. This trail is also dog-friendly and a safe and fun way to explore with four-legged friends.

Hiking Park Avenue in Arches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail in Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park, in Southeast Utah, is a day-hikers paradise. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch. The Park Avenue Trail is most aptly named for New York City’s famous street. Early travelers noticed a similarity between these sandstone spires and the famous skyscrapers along New York’s Park Avenue and the name stuck. The main difference, of course, is that the “skyscrapers” of Arches National Park were sculpted by nature. Although you can start at either end of this shuttle trail starting at the south end (Park Avenue) results in a totally downhill hike. You’ll really be missing something if you leave Arches without taking this short hike. You can see the Courthouse Towers, Tower of Babel, Three Gossips, the Organ, and other grand “skyscrapers” from the road but if you don’t take this hike you’ll miss the truly stimulating experience of walking among them.

Hiking Badlands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cliff Shelf Nature Trail in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a short trail over a boardwalk but gives hikers an opportunity to see local wildlife and a great view of the White River Valley and Eagle Butte. Over 50 plant species and 100 bird species have been seen in the area around the trail partially due to the Cliff Shelf’s bowl-like shape-retaining more water. There is occasionally a small pond that attracts wildlife such as bighorn sheep. Keep your binocular handy and get hiking!

Hiking Capitol Reef © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Throne Trail in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Towering 1,400 feet above the road at the bottom of Capitol Gorge, Golden Throne is an icon of the park and draws many tourists and photographers every year. Toward the east end of Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef National Park, hikers have the chance to climb up into the higher reaches of the Waterpocket Fold to enjoy the view of Golden Throne from up close. The trailhead to this short but strenuous ascent ascends by way of switchback from the narrow confines of Capitol Gorge. This hike gains close to 800 feet of elevation within its 1.5-mile ascent and then loses the same on the way back down.

Hiking Interdune Boardwalk in White Sands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interdune Boardwalk in White Sands National Park, New Mexico

There is no better way to experience the unique landscape of White Sands National Park than by venturing out onto any of the five established trails. Explore the dunes and enjoy the silence and solitude of the dune field with its stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The trails vary in terms of difficulty and scenery. The Interdune Boardwalk is fully accessible for people using wheelchairs and strollers. Take an easy 0.4 mile round trip stroll through the dunes and learn about the science, geology, plants, and animals that make White Sands an unequaled natural wonder. The boardwalk is a great place to take a break under the shade canopy, listen for bird calls, observe lizards, and enjoy wildflowers. The average completion time is 20 minutes.

Hiking New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Endless Wall Trail in New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

The New River Gorge National Park is home to the highly underrated Endless Wall Trail. This moderate 2.4-mile walk begins in the forests of the park before crossing Fern Creek and zig-zagging along a cliff edge overlooking the New River. The trail is dotted with scenic overlooks including the breathtaking overlook at Diamond Point. From there, hikers can retrace their steps or continue to trail’s end and hike for another half mile along a road to the starting point.

Hiking Shenandoah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hawksbill Loop Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

At just 3 miles in length, the Hawksbill Loop Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park may not seem very long but it packs plenty of punch. The route wanders along part of the legendary Appalachian Trail on its way up to the top of Hawksbill—the highest point in the park at just over 4,000 feet. Along the way, hikers can spot wildlife as they work their way up to the summit where they’ll discover a stone platform that offers views of thick forests and rolling hills that stretch to the horizon. 

Hiking the Big Trees Trail in Sequoia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

From the museum follow a paved path on a ridge above the road. In a few hundred feet, the path will cross the road as you near the meadow. From here the trail does a loop around the meadow which you can start in either direction. The path is paved or in some places a wooden bridge when it gets marshy. Allow 1 hour round trip.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey