20 Amazing Campgrounds Worth the Road Trip

Sleep under the stars

Camping is great but camping in a one-of-a-kind site with unique features (saltwater pools, sweeping views, horseback riding, we could go on) is even better. The next time you decide to venture into the great outdoors be sure to first consult this list. From campsites nestled in legendary state parks to options located on warm, sandy beaches, here are 20 campgrounds in the worth the road trip.

Shenandoah National Park campgrounds, Virginia

All of the five campgrounds at Shenandoah are open seasonally from early spring until late fall. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. 

Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1) is the nearest campground for those entering the park from Front Royal in the northern section of the Park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and picnic table. Mathews Arm has a combination of reservable and first-come, first-served sites.

Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2) is centrally-located in the park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and a picnic table. All sites at Big Meadows Campground are by reservation only.

Other campgrounds in Shenandoah include Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Here are some helpful resources:

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park, Utah

Camping in Arches is only allowed in Devils Garden Campground. The demand for campground sites is extremely heavy and the park service recommends making reservations as early as possible. Reservations can be made up to 6 months before arrival and must be made at least 4 days before you arrive. If you don’t have a reservation, plan on camping outside the park. Between November 1 and February 28, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

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

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

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park campgrounds, California

There are fourteen campgrounds in the parks including two that are open during all four seasons. Campsites hold up to six people. Each has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and a metal food-storage box. Nearly all campgrounds require advance reservations; sites fill quickly.

Except when weather or safety conditions require a closure, Potwisha Campground is open year-round with a four-month advance booking window. The campground sits at 2,100 feet elevation along the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River under an open stand of oaks. Hot and dry weather in the foothills often require fire restrictions in the summer. In the winter, the campground is usually snow-free.

If you need ideas, check out:

Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds, California

The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation. 

You can camp among these truck-size boulders at Jumbo Rocks, one of the park’s eight campgrounds. Only two campgrounds (Black Rock and Cottonwood) have water, flush toilets, and dump stations. Cottonwood is especially popular with RVers. At the Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, RVs are limited to a maximum combined length of 25 feet (RV and a towed or towing vehicle); in the other campgrounds, the limit is 35 feet, space permitting.

Here are some articles to help:

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park campgrounds, South Dakota

Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The Cedar Pass Campground is a paid campground with 96 sites total, some designated for RV camping with electric hookups. Reservations for the Cedar Pass Campground can be made through contacting the Cedar Pass Lodge online or by phone at 877-386-4383. Sage Creek Campground is a free, first-come first-serve campground with 22 sites and limited to RVs 18 feet in length or less.

Read more:

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument camping, Arizona

Cottonwood Campground is managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. Nightly fee with 93 sites available first-come, first-serve. No showers or hookups.

Here are some helpful resources:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping, North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintains developed frontcountry campgrounds at 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek Campground, Balsam Mountain Campground, Big Creek Campground, Cades Cove Campground, Cataloochee Campground, Cosby Campground, Deep Creek Campground, Elkmont Campground, Look Rock Campground, and Smokemont Campground. Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year. Cades Cove and Smokemont Campgrounds are open year-round. All other campgrounds are open on a seasonal basis.

If you need ideas, check out:

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountains Regional Park camping, Arizona

With nearly 30,000 acres, White Tank Mountain Regional Park is the largest park in Maricopa County. White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping.

Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers.

Read more: A Hiker’s Paradise: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island camping, Georgia

Park your RV or pitch your tent under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items and bike rentals so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer.

The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.

If you need ideas, check out: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Mesa Verde National Park camping, Colorado

Spend a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs including 15 full-hookup RV sites.
Morefield’s campsites are situated on loop roads that extend through a high grassy canyon filled with Gambel Oak scrub, native flowers, deer, and wild turkeys. Several of the park’s best hikes leave from Morefield and climb to spectacular views of surrounding valleys and mountains.

Here are some articles to help:

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

Dead Horse Point State Park camping, Utah

Nestled within a grove of junipers, Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 amps). Modern restroom facilities are available and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, or the Visitor Center.

New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons. This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RVs or tent campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites.  All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under shade shelters, and access to bathrooms with running water and dishwashing sinks.  RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Read more:

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park camping, Arizona

Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Sites are suitable for RVs and/or tents. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Here are some helpful resources:

Grand Canyon National Park camping, Arizona

Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Open year-round, there are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, picnic table, and parking space. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available but a dump station is available.

Situated within a picturesque high desert landscape, Trailer Village RV Park park offers paved pull-through full hookup sites designed for vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village RV Park is open year-round.

The North Rim Campground is open from mid-May 15 through mid-October, weather permitting. The canyon’s rustic and less populated North Rim is home to abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and unparalleled views of this natural wonder. The facility is at an elevation of 8,200 feet with pleasant summer temperatures and frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

Here are some articles to help:

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park camping, Arizona

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 42 mixed-amenity sites. Campground F has 15 full-hookup sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Read more: Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park camping, Mississippi

Buccaneer State Park Campground has 206 premium single-family campsites and is located in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks and marshlands on the Gulf Coast. All of the 206 develop campsites have full hookups (water, electric, and sewer). There are also an additional 70 sites (with water and electric) that are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and 25 primitive (first-come, first-serve) sites located in the back of Royal Cay camp area.

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards this developed campground has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. Accessible sites (non-electric) are located adjacent to restrooms.

Here are some helpful resources:

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park camping, Alabama

Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 full hookup sites with paved pads. All full hookup camping pads are at least ~45 feet (most back-ins) to ~65 feet (most pull-through) long with more than enough room for RVs with pullouts, have picnic tables, and pedestal grill tops There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the campground.

Meahler State Park camping, Alabama

Meaher State Park has 61 RV campsites. Each site is paved, roughly 65 feet in length and has 20, 30 and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hookups. You have a grill and picnic table at your site and plenty of space between you and the next guest. The park has 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. All tent sites have a grill/fire pit and picnic table available. The campground features an air conditioned/heated main shower house equipped with laundry facilities for overnight campers and a smaller bathhouse equipped with restrooms only.

Read more: Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park camping, Arizona

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Goose Island State Park camping, Texas

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

Read more: Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

The Complete Guide to Shenandoah National Park

Cruise scenic Skyline Drive, explore mountain trails, and find serenity at this Virginia treasure
Gushing waterfalls. Rolling mountains. Granite peaks. Lush valleys. Ninety-plus streams. Fog oceans that tumble over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Animals and wildflowers aplenty.

With such an abundance of natural beauty Shenandoah National Park ranks as one of Virginia’s wildest yet most serene destinations. Author Bill Bryson calls it “possibly the most wonderful national park I have ever been in.”

Native Americans wandered this area for millennia to hunt, gather food, and collect materials for stone tools. Shenandoah is a Native American word that some historians believe means daughter of the stars.

European hunters and trappers arrived in the 1700s followed by settlers and entrepreneurs who launched farming, logging, milling, and mining operations.

In the early 1900s inspired by the popularity of Western national parks, Virginia politicians and businessmen pushed for a park in the East and President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation authorizing Shenandoah National Park in 1926. Roughly 465 families had to leave their homes after the state of Virginia acquired the land but a few stubborn mountaineers refused to go, living the rest of their lives in the thick woods.

In 1931, the federal highway department began building Shenandoah National Park’s signature attraction, 105-mile Skyline Drive which runs north to south through the length of the park. Two years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pet New Deal programs—started constructing its infrastructure from overlooks to picnic areas and FDR dedicated the 197,438 acre park in 1936. Fast forward to 2022 and this Old Dominion beauty now attracts 1.5 million visitors annually.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

From Washington, D.C., Shenendoah National Park is an easy 71-mile drive southwest. It’s also a doable drive from Philadelphia (210 miles northwest of the park) and Raleigh, North Carolina (218 miles south).

In the park, mileposts along Skyline Drive will help you locate significant sites from lodges to trailheads. The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is at mile 4.6, for example; the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center, mile 51. The numbering system starts in the north at the Front Royal entrance (mile 0) and ends at the southern Rockfish Gap entrance (mile 105). Two middle entrances are Thornton Gap (mile 31.5) and Swift Run Gap (mile 65.7). The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle (annual Senior Pass, $20).

In October, the most-visited month throngs of leaf lovers arrive for fall foliage but autumn’s reds and golds are worth the extra traffic and overflowing parking lots on Skyline Drive. Come on a weekday for smaller crowds. The leaves change sooner at higher elevations so explore the park’s lower points between the Front Royal and Thornton Gap entrances if you go later in October.

The park website posts a frequently updated report on when the leaves will hit their peak colors. Don’t count on posting foliage photos on social media while in the park. Cellphone service is spotty at best though the two lodges and visitors centers offer Wi-Fi.

You’ll see stunning sights any season you visit. May brings woodland flowers such as trillium, which grows near streambanks and other wet areas. Columbine, milkweed, and other wildflowers take the floral stage in June; black-eyed Susans and goldenrods often bloom into fall.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other seasonal draws

Waterfalls are typically fullest in spring and fall and some park visitors favor the quiet of winter. Sure, it’s cold—average high temperatures in the mid to upper 30s—but you’ll experience the park in a completely different way.

You’ll see deeper into the woods in winter because there’s nothing obstructing your view. You’ll see more of the rock outcrops and you might see more deer because they’re not blocked by the vegetation. And the lighting in the wintertime is beautiful.

December through March are the least-visited months—the facilities are closed then so bring food and plenty of water—and May and September tend to be quieter as well. Summer can be hot and humid (this is Virginia) but July’s average high temperature is a comfy 75—and Shenandoah is typically up to 10 degrees cooler than muggy D.C.

Restrooms are available at the park’s picnic grounds (some are pit toilets), visitor’s centers, lodges, waysides, and camp stores. You’ll find portable toilets at the Panorama Comfort Station (mile 31.6) and at the Beagle Gap parking area (mile 99.5).

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

Some national parks have iconic hotels worth seeing even if you’re not a guest but Shenandoah National Park’s two lodges are pleasant places to stay, not must-see attractions, each offering a mix of rooms, cabins, multiunit lodges, and suites. Their advantage over gateway-town hotels: The lodges and the park’s cabins and campgrounds are within easy walking distance of trails and you can revel in Shenandoah’s quiet, woodsy seclusion.

Big Meadows Lodge (mile 51) near the Byrd Visitor Center was built in 1939 using local chestnut trees and stones from nearby Massanutten Mountain. From the lodge’s wood-paneled lobby enjoy the sweeping view of 30-mile-wide Page Valley. Walk just a mile at sunset to Big Meadows the park’s largest meadow and you’ll see whitetail deer grazing; in August, you might spot bears dining on blueberries. The lodge is open from early May through early November.

If you book the Skyland lodge (mile 41.7), request a room with a balcony overlooking Massanutten Mountain and Page Valley. With Skyland’s elevation at 3,680 feet, Skyline Drive’s highest point you’ll get jaw-dropping views. The property is open April through November.

For something only slightly more rustic, settle into a cabin in the dense woods at Lewis Mountain Cabins (mile 57.5)—no Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, or kitchen but you’ll have a bathroom, electricity, and an outdoor grill. Rentals available from April through November.

Whichever option you choose book at least three to four weeks in advance for spring and summer and 10 to 12 months ahead for fall-foliage season.

Shenandoah National Park’s five campgrounds—spread out along Skyline Drive in secluded, tree-filled locales—open at different times between March and May and then close in fall. Driving an RV? Stay at Mathews Arm (mile 22.2), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), or Loft Mountain (mile 79.5). For showers and washing machines choose Big Meadows or Loft Mountain. Dundo (mile 83.7) is for groups of seven to 15 people.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) is exclusively first come, first served; the other campgrounds accept reservations while also offering limited spots on a first-come, first-served basis. Nightly permits range from $15 to $50. Book up to six months in advance at recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

Ready for some Virginia cuisine? At Big Meadows Lodge, the Spottswood Dining Room serves Southern favorites such as fried chicken along with wow-inducing views of Page Valley on the pet-friendly terrace. Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room also mixes regional dishes with valley views. The must-try dessert at both restaurants: blackberry ice cream pie.

Seven shady picnic grounds lie between miles 4.6 and 83.7 tucked away from Skyline Drive noise. Overlooks make appealing picnic spots, too. Or walk to easy-to-reach summits such as the 1.6-mile round-trip Stony Man trail (mile 41.7). Sit on a rock, eat your PB&J and gaze out at the mountains and valley. If you didn’t pack a lunch the wayside food stops located every 25 miles on Skyline Drive sell carryout meals, groceries, and camping supplies. Or stop by Addie’s Corner at Skyland for sandwiches, pastries, beverages and snacks.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Driving

Cruising Skyline Drive to see the sights—that is Shenandoah National Park’s must-do activity. The speed limit is only 35 mph but you won’t want to zoom past the gorgeous scenery. Whether you drive all 105 miles or just one lovely, leafy portion, stop for the panoramic views at some of the 75 overlooks. Two recommended by park staffers: the Big Run (mile 81.2) and Range View (mile 17.1).

On a clear day you see ridge after ridge after bluish ridge and you don’t see a lot of development when you look down into the lowlands below. The same thing with Big Run—it’s all wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

For all of Skyline Drive’s two-laned delights, hiking is the best way to experience Shenandoah National Park’s sights, sounds, and smells—take your pick from 335 trails (including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail). Since park elevation peaks at about 4,000 feet, even the steepest hikes aren’t as daunting as their Western counterparts.

The 2.4-mile round-trip Compton Gap trail (mile 10.4) takes you on the Appalachian Trail to a T-like intersection. Go right and walk 0.2 miles for splendid views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Go left 0.2 miles to a unique geologic formation: clumps of polygonal columns formed by ancient lava flows. The path is steep but worth the walk.

If you have accessibility issues, set out on the flat-and-mild, 1.3-mile Limberlost (mile 43), the park’s only wheelchair-friendly trail. Rest on its benches and enjoy mountain laurels and bird calls. (Listen for towhees—the distinctive call sounds like, “Drink your teeee. Drink your teeee.”) Nearby streams and plentiful food such as apple trees attract black bears, too. Shenandoah National Park rangers advise making noise so bears know you’re nearby—they’ll usually run from humans—and staying at least 150 feet away if you see any. The bears are not aggressive but do not approach a mama with her cubs.

Waterfalls are among the park’s most soul-soothing sites. Winding streams, hovering trees, crashing water—what’s not to like? The moderate Whiteoak Canyon Trail (mile 42.6) features two falls but to reduce fatigue hike 4.6 miles round trip to the spectacular first falls—the Upper Whiteoak Falls—rather than walking to both. The reason: The trail descends (as do all the park’s waterfall trails), so you endure the steep part on the way back. Before reaching the falls, side trails lead to a stream where you can walk on flat rocks, hear the thunderous rapids and feel cool air emanating from the water.

Hard-core hikers favor Old Rag, a strenuous 9.2-mile round-trip hike up Old Rag Mountain. Its multiple heart-pumping highlights include a rock scramble (you’ll be clambering over rock faces, often using your hands for balance) and a summit.

Tackle it on a weekday; this popular hike gets crowded on weekends when you may even experience lines at narrow passages which can feel more like a day at the DMV than a national park. You can’t access Old Rag from Skyline Drive; rather, you’ll need to take route 600. For directions to the trailhead, type in the address of Old Rag’s newest parking lot—2923 Nethers Road—into a mapping app.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargazing

Amateur astronomers often host night sky presentations discussing celestial wonders and pointing out notable planets and stars. They typically set up telescopes on Rapidan Fire Road leading into Big Meadows, near the lodge.

You can also attend a free outdoor “Under the Stars at Shenandoah National Park” presentation held monthly at the Big Meadows or Skyland lodges (time varies based on sunset). Talk topics range from meteorites to star life cycles.

Each August, the park hosts Night Sky Festival, a weekend with presentations from rangers, astronauts, and guest speakers on interstellar subjects.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird-watching, horseback riding, fishing

Prefer animals over Alpha Centauri? If you’re a bird lover, meet an owl, raptor, and a red-tailed hawk in the ranger-led Birds of Prey program held four times a week at the amphitheater in the Big Meadows picnic ground (mile 51.2). Equestrians clip-clop across 200 miles of horse trails. Skyland Stables (mile 42.5) offers guided horseback and pony rides throughout the day.

Anglers can cast in more than 70 streams with 38 species of fish, from brook trout to fantail darters.

Touring

Thanks to fishing, Shenandoah National Park can claim Herbert Hoover slept here. Frequently. In 1929, the then-president bought 164 acres for Rapidan Camp near Skyline Drive’s midpoint, as his personal fishing hideaway welcoming big-shot guests such as Thomas Edison and Charles Lindbergh. The camp sits near two streams that merge to form the Rapidan River surrounded by hemlocks.

Make reservations online for a 2.5-hour ranger-led tour of the property and Hoover’s wood cabin named the Brown House to distinguish it from the White House. The simple-but-pretty interior has been restored to its 1929 appearance with much of the furniture original although replica handmade Navajo rugs are most striking. Ride a minibus from the Byrd Visitor Center to get there or hike 4 miles round trip from the Milam Gap parking area (mile 52.4).

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway towns

Front Royal

Download a walking tour from the local visitor’s center to take in the must-see sites in this town 1 mile from Shenandoah National Park’s north gate. Its charming historic district teems with antique shops, restaurants, and attractions such as Belle Boyd Cottage (a tour reveals sizzling stories about Belle, one of the Confederacy’s most infamous spies).

Drop into Spelunker’s for its frozen custard and burger which a Washington Post food writer declared a culinary masterpiece.

Stay at the nearby L’Auberge Provençale, named one of the world’s 50 best romantic getaways in 2020 by Travel + Leisure. Rooms at the 270-year-old home in White Post (13 miles northeast of Front Royal) start at $180 a night, but the fresh croissants, French antiques, and Provençale designs make the inn worth the splurge.

Waynesboro

Here, just 5 miles from the southern Rockfish Gap entrance, you’ll find some of Virginia’s best trout fishing as well as canoeing and kayaking on the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail.

At the town’s annual Virginia Street Arts Festival, artists paint large murals on buildings.

From the patio at the Basic City Beer Co. take in a back-wall mural titled Isabelle—a gripping black-and-white closeup of a woman with a yellow flower in her mouth—while drinking a honey-hued malt lager.

The Fishin’ Pig’s T-shirt worthy name might lure you in for a bite but locals come for the fried catfish.

Luray

Luray Caverns, one of the East Coast’s largest caverns draws visitors to this town, 10 miles west of the Thornton Gap entrance.

But also make time to view regional artists’ work at the Warehouse Art Gallery and sip a latte at chill coffee joint Gathering Grounds.

Check into the stately Mimslyn Inn or the wooded Shadow Mountain Escape where four timber-frame cabins feature European decor and exposed oak-beam ceilings.

Sperryville

Tiny Sperryville sits near a gushing stream 7 miles east of the Thornton Gap entrance. At Headmaster’s Pub, replenish those calories you burned hiking with the pub’s juicy burgers made from grass-fed beef. Also have some fun in its game room with air hockey, pool tables, and old-school pinball machines (some not even digital).

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route

If you drive through Charlottesville, take time to explore this charming college town 25 miles east of the park’s Rockfish Gap entrance. Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia at age 76 as “the hobby of my old age.”

A must-see: The Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the social centerpiece of campus since the university opened in 1819. Academic buildings border the long, grassy courtyard at both ends with student and faculty housing along the sides. Also tour Jefferson’s exquisite home, Monticello, 2 miles outside the city.

Back in town, stroll the pedestrian mall for the people watching, window-shopping (book lovers should browse the New Dominion Bookshop) and dining. Duck into the Whiskey Jar for top-notch Southern cuisine, but save room for peanut butter pie at the Pie Chest.

Virginia has nearly 300 wineries, many clustered outside of Charlottesville. Jam-band rocker and former Charlottesville resident Dave Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards, about 20 minutes southeast from town. Enjoy a bottle of the house white out on the patio for views of rolling, vineyard-covered hills. If you prefer a pilsner, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail guides you to 15 breweries.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving to the park via Interstate 81, stop by Staunton, 17 miles west of the Rockfish Gap entrance. The city escaped the Civil War unscathed and publications such as Architectural Digest and Smithsonian have raved about its well-preserved Main Street where quaint 18th- and 19th-century buildings thrive as restaurants, shops, theaters, and more.

For a local history lesson, take the Historic Staunton Foundation’s walking tour, offered every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, May through October. Afterward do lunch at LUNdCH from owner/chef Mike Lund, former chef de cuisine at the world-renowned Inn at Little Washington.

Coming from Washington, D.C., don’t miss the massive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum near Dulles airport. The museum’s collection includes the Concorde, Enola Gay, the Space Shuttle Discovery, and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest aircraft ever flown.

Shenandoah 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:

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact box

Location: Virginia, about 75 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

Size: 197,438 acres

Highest peak: Hawksbill, at 4,051 feet

Miles/number of trails: 518 miles along 335 trails

Main attraction: Skyline Drive

Entry fee: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days; annual Senior Pass $20

Best way to see the park: By car and by foot

When to go to avoid the crowds: December through March

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

The Best National Parks to Visit by Season

Best season to visit each national park

When planning a trip to the national parks one of the most important things to consider is the time of year that you are planning your visit. Most national parks have an optimal time to visit based on factors such as weather, crowd levels, and road closures.

In this article, I cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by two lists that illustrate the best months to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit the National Parks by month

Below is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. Each national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times.

These guides take many factors into consideration: weather, crowd levels, special events, fall colors, the best time to go hiking, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at least one occasion.

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

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete list of the National Parks

This guide covers the best time to visit each national park based on weather, crowd levels, and my personal experiences in the parks. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month by month. I list each of the national parks we have visited in alphabetical order and indicate the best months to visit each of these parks.

This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

There are two different ways to use these tables.

If you have a particular month or season that you are planning your trip, you can look at that column (for example: May) and the parks that are listed for that month make great options for your trip.

If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months listed are the best times to visit this park.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best parks to visit by month

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit national parks by month

  • Arches National Park (Utah): January, March, November, December
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota): April, October
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): March, April, November
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah): March, April, November
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): February, July, August, September
  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): March, May, November
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): January, April, June, November, December
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina & Tennessee): May, September, October
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): January, February, November
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): June, July, August
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): May, September
  • New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia): June, October
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): February, April, November
  • Pinnacles National Park (California): March, April, November
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona): January, February, May
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California): June, July, August
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): May, September, October
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): June, July, September, October
  • White Sands National Park (New Mexico): February, March, November
  • Zion National Park (Utah): January, October, November, December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

Look to the Stars! National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

Stargazing season is amazing! Enjoy the night skies at their brightest at National Parks stargazing festivals.

National parks are helping visitors make the most of their dark skies by hosting stargazing festivals. The festivals include various night-time events in addition to stargazing. 

These events are right around the corner so bust out your stargazing kit and get going!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dark Sky National Parks

National parks are becoming night sky havens since they have less exposure to light pollution. Dozens of national parks are even designated Dark Sky Parks because of their “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights…”

Some national parks with the official Dark Sky Park classification are:

You’ll notice Utah is a big hitter when it comes to stargazing. There are so many incredible places to not only see during the day but also to be mesmerized by at night!

That’s why it’s no surprise that my posts on Southern Utah are some of my most popular posts. Here’s a sampling:

I also have an article on the Best National Parks for Stargazing.

National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

These annual events are held at similar times annually so if you’ve missed one you can start planning for next year. 

National parks often host many stargazing activities and events throughout the year so check for those whenever you plan to visit.

Pro tip: If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, you can save a lot of money by getting an America the Beautiful Pass.

Alrighty, let’s take a look at the national parks stargazing festivals 2024.

Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, March 1-3

Death Valley is known for some of the best stargazing in America. It’s even designated a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, the highest rating of darkness.

During the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival visitors can enjoy the stunning night sky as well as special events like the Exploration Fair, auditorium talks, astrophotography meetups, and more.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8

Grand Canyon National Park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful rugged terrain. But did you know it also hosts some of the most beautiful night skies around? 

You can take in those skies in early June at their annual Star Party. The event is free but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is good for the North and South rims for seven days. 

The event starts at sunset and the best viewing time is after 9 pm. Most telescopes will be taken down at 11 pm although some folks still share theirs after that when the skies are crisp and clear.  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. This park has such excellent night sky viewing that it earned its dark-sky designation in 2019!

Come view the reddish-colored hoodoos during the day and then return for its spectacular nighttime views.

Their Annual Astronomy Festival includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. Last year, they had a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 5-7

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. You can see things like sod tables and clastic dikes during the day then stay to take advantage of their dark night skies. 

The Badlands Astronomy Festival partners with the NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium. Their festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided walk through a scaled solar system model!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival, August 11-13

Shenandoah National Park is a gorgeous gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains in north-central Virginia. In fact, this almost 200,000-acre park is so breathtaking that I have done several posts about it:

You can view its cascading waterfalls, wildflower fields, and quiet woods daily then stay for its spectacular nighttime views.  

The other great thing about this park is its location. It is only a 75-mile drive from Washington, D.C. So, you’re close to many historical sites and museums as well.

Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions.

The event includes ranger talks, other lectures and presentations, and family-friendly activities. The guest presentations include a span of topics, including space travel, space weather, and our future in space. 

The event is free with park admission. 

Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 5-7

The Great Basin National Park might be for you if you prefer to avoid crowds. It is one of the least crowded national parks! 

The 77,000-acre park in eastern Nevada also has a research-grade observatory! 

This fall, you can attend their 15th annual stargazing event. This year’s festival will have many of the same events as 2023 with new guest speakers, ranger programs, and art projects.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October (Dates TBA)

Joshua Tree National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

Every year, the park and non-profit organizations Joshua Tree Educational Experience (JTREE) and Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center partner to bring this incredible stargazing event. 

The Night Sky Festival is a ticketed event and has a limited capacity. They haven’t announced the 2024 dates yet, but it’s typically held around the second weekend of October. You can click that link to see if they’ve updated their website with dates and ticket information.

It is usually located just outside the park limits at the Sky’s The Limit Nature Observatory and Nature Center. Tickets go on sale in early summer. 

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene

10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits

Planning a trip to a national park in 2024? Check to see which parks will require advanced reservations and timed entry as peak travel season arrives.

With the arrival of the New Year, many are making plans for the 2024 travel season. Whether taking one of the many bucket list-worthy national park road trips or planning an entire trip around a single park, America’s protected, nature-packed areas are some of the most popular travel destinations in the U.S.

As travelers are making plans to visit national parks, the park system readies itself to receive the influx of visitors. For some of the most beautiful (and popular) national parks, this means implementing early reservation and timed entry systems to control the flow of vehicles and people into each park.

As of early January 2024, the following national parks have announced early reservation systems for the upcoming peak season between April and October. Some parks will have timed entry for one or two of their most popular attractions while others are preparing to use a timed entry system for the entire park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start planning now; these are the national parks that require reservations in advance and will take some serious preparation!

1. Yosemite National Park, California

Reservations required for: Entire park (select days)

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. with some of the most iconic granite structures in the world. With such iconic hiking trails, scenic drives, and backcountry campsites, it’s no surprise Yosemite National Park requires timed entry reservations during parts of the peak season.

The most significant reservation requirement in Yosemite National Park is during February when the famous Yosemite Firefall is visible. Reservations are required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park every weekend in February to help control traffic.

In addition to the February reservations, timed entry is also required during most of the peak season (April to October). Reservations will be required on weekends in April, June, September, and October and daily during July and August. Controlled crowds are positive for guests in the park, leaving more room to enjoy not just the stunning Firefall but all the sights and stunning hiking trails in Yosemite National Park.

About Yosemite National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days
  • Reservation fee: None
  • When are reservations required: Weekends in February, April 13-October 27

2. Glacier National Park, Montana

Reservations required for: Going-to-the-Sun Highway, Many Glacier, and North Fork

Home to some of the most spectacular scenic drives Glacier National Park is certainly a must-visit destination. Between May 24 and September 8, admission to the most popular parts of this region will require an additional pass.

Vehicle reservations will be required to drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and to enter the Many Glacier and North Fork areas. Reservations will be required from 6 am until 3 pm each day during the peak season.

For those who have planned activities in these areas like camping, horseback riding, or boating the pass to the activity doubles as the vehicle reservation pass as well. Given that Going-to-the-Sun Road in particular is the access point to some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park, travelers are sure to be grateful for the limitations on crowds as they enjoy the one-of-a-kind views.

About Glacier National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days
  • Reservation fee: None
  • When are reservations required: May 24-September 8 (6 am-3 pm)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

Reservations required for: Angel’s Landing and The Narrows

Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country and is well-established as being one of the best national parks for scenic hiking. One of those hikes, however, will require some advanced planning.

Angel’s Landing, one of the most dangerous hikes in the U.S. is not a trail that people can just jump onto spontaneously. Hopeful hikers must first enter the seasonal lottery to obtain a permit or they can try their luck with the day-before lottery system on the Zion National Park website. Those who do not receive a permit can still hike to Scout Lookout along the strenuous West Rim Trail which gains 1,000 feet in elevation over 2.3 miles and provides scenic views of Zion Canyon.

While Angel’s Landing is the most famous hike that requires a permit in Zion National Park, there is one other trek that will need a reservation as well. The 16-mile Through Virgin Rivers Narrows hike requires a reservation as well and visitors will need to note whether they plan to spend the night on the trail or not.

About Zion National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $6/group (Angel’s Landing)
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

4. Acadia National Park, Maine

Reservations required for: Cadillac Summit Road

From the forests to the coastline to the mountains, Acadia National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in America (a fact that was recently confirmed by Condé Nast Traveler). Cadillac Mountain is one of the main attractions of this scenic region and for good reason. As the highest point in the park, the views are practically endless.

During peak season, however, the drive to Cadillac Mountain’s summit aptly named the Cadillac Summit Road will require reservations. From May to October, visitors to Acadia National Park will need to purchase a separate reservation pass to gain access to Cadillac Summit Road. Since the park’s shuttle does not service the summit the views from the top are exclusively for those who have planned allowing everyone to get that perfect shot.

About Acadia National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $35/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $6/vehicle
  • When are reservations required: May-October

5. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

Reservations required for: Sunrise Park entry

For most national parks that require reservations, the goal is to limit crowds during the crazy midday rush that often bombards these natural wonders. In Hawaii, however, the rush starts at 3 am with people clamoring for a perfect place to enjoy the sunrise.

One of the best places to watch the sunrise in Hawaii is Haleakalā National Park. The park has become so popular for sunrise watching that Haleakalā National Park has implemented a reservation system for sunrise viewing. Between 3 am and 7 am entry to the park requires the purchase of a reservation slot in addition to the normal park fees.

To ensure that everyone has their chance to enjoy the morning glow slots open 60 days in advance with a second set of slots opening just 48 hours before the time frame. Golden ticket in hand and backpack on, early risers will be in perfect shape to enjoy the morning glow rising over the tropical landscape.

About Haleakalā National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $1/person
  • When are reservations required: Year-round
Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Arches National Park, Utah

Reservations required for: The entire park

Arches National Park is home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world and these delicate formations require a little extra protection to maintain. Starting on April 1, 2024, Arches National Park will require time entry for peak season.

As a relatively compact national park, Arches does not have the acreage of some of the other national parks for guests to spread out. As a result, a timed program is being introduced to manage the crowds that the park sees between April and October.

A small, non-refundable $2 fee will ensure one’s vehicle entry to the park. Alternatively, those who have reservations for camping or other park activities will be able to use their activity tickets as their timed entry passes. These precautions are great news to visitors who are hoping to enjoy the amazing rock formations in Arches National Park without overcrowding on the park’s roads and trails.

About Arches National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $2/person
  • When are reservations required: April 1 – October 31
Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Reservation required for: The entire park

Located west of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park feels a world away from the busy city streets of downtown. Despite the remote feel, the park’s proximity to a major city means that crowds are to be expected especially during peak season.

To combat the waves of eager hikers, bikers, and campers, Rocky Mountain National Park has a two-part timed entry system in place between May and October. The first reservation is for Bear Lake Road Corridor which gives a two-hour entry window between 5 am and 6 pm to both Bear Lake Road Corridor and the rest of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The other timed entry reservation is exclusively for the rest of the park or everywhere except Bear Lake Road Corridor. This reservation also gives a two-hour entry window and is only required between 9 am and 2 pm.

About Rocky Mountain National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $2/person
  • When are reservations required: May 24-October 20

Note: Rocky Mountain National Park is undergoing several major construction projects. Even with timed entry reservations limiting guest numbers, visitors should be prepared for long lines in some areas of the park including at both main entrance points.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Reservations required for: Old Rag Mountain

A scenic day trip from Washington DC, the mountains and forests of Shenandoah National Park draw in thousands of visitors each year. There are so many things to do in Shenandoah National Park from hiking to scenic drives to fishing, so it’s no surprise that limitations are in place to control visitor numbers and prevent overcrowding.

During peak season, visitors to Shenandoah National Park will need a reservation to visit one of the most popular areas for hiking and backpacking, Old Rag Mountain. Visitors can obtain a day-use permit pass which grants access to the mountain and its scenic hiking trails including the Old Rag Summit hike.

Tickets are released in two batches, 30 days and 5 days ahead of the permit date. This means that advanced planners and last-minute travelers alike will have a chance to take in these incredible summit views.

About Shenandoah National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $30/vehicle
  • Reservation fee: $1/person
  • When are reservations required: March 1-November 30
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Muir Woods National Monument, California

Reservations required for: The entire park

Muir Woods National Monument was one of the first parks to implement a reserved entrance fee requiring entrance reservations starting in 2018. Starting in 2024, Muir Woods National Monument’s reservation system is getting an update with a shuttle service to and from the park being offered instead of making a parking reservation.

With limited parking space and a delicate ecosystem within Muir Woods, a reservation system is a matter of necessity. As a result, parking and shuttle reservations are required year-round. This means more space in the park for guests to enjoy the scenic hiking trails, towering redwoods, and coastal views that make Muir Woods National Monument a hotspot for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

About Muir Woods National Monument reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $15/person
  • Reservation fee: $9.50/vehicle or $3.75/person via shuttle
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

10. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Reservations required for: Grand Teton backcountry overnights

For many national parks, it is the busy scenic driving routes and hiking trails that require permits to limit overcrowding and damage to the delicate ecosystems. In Grand Teton National Park, however, it is a trip to the remote backcountry that will require advanced planning.

Reservations are required to overnight hike, backpack, or camp in Grand Teton National Park’s backcountry and permits are only available between January and May for the entire year. As a result, visitors hoping to explore the wilder parts of this Wyoming gem in 2024 will need to plan well in advance.

About Grand Teton National Park reservations:

  • Entrance fee: $15/person
  • Reservation fee: $20/permit flat rate and $7/person nightly fee
  • When are reservations required: Year-round

Backcountry permits for Grand Teton National Park peak season become available on January 10, 2024, at 8 am MST. Walk-up permits are also available at the backcountry office and can be obtained no more than 24 hours before the permit takes effect.

Worth Pondering…

A national park is not a playground; it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

—Michael Frome

The Top 10 Christmas-Inspired RV Road Trips

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

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

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

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

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

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

Here are some helpful resources:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Augustine, Florida to Savannah, Georgia

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

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

Here are some articles to help:

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

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

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

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

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

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park to Moab, Utah

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

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

Here are some helpful resources:

Manatee in Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

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

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

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

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

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

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

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

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

Holly Jolly Jekyll

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park to Nashville

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

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

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Norman Vincent Peale

The 25 Most Breathtaking Places in the U.S. and Canada to Visit in your Lifetime

These are 25 of the most breathtaking for RV travel

What is the most breathtaking place in America? To compile the most breathtaking places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most breathtaking places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s name is rather deceiving. Instead of containing a canyon what it does have are stone pinnacles that were formed naturally over time due to erosion from the stream and weathering during winter’s frost. Multiple points throughout this park offer a stupendous view, but your best bet is Bryce Point in the southern region. From here, you’ll have a prime viewing of all the amazing stone formations known as hoodoos scattered about the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Jasper National Park, Alberta

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.

Organ Pipe National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the forests of Saguaro.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tulip fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

These farmlands are must-sees in the spring—namely in April which is the absolute best time to take a trip to this Pacific Northwest locale. That’s when all the bright, vibrant tulips are in full bloom and when you can enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. If you visit at the right time you’ll get to see not just tulips in all sorts of pretty, warm colors but also countless other flowers that add to the gorgeousness of the fields. During the festival, you can taste wine, enjoy strolling through gardens, sample barbecues, and feast your eyes on art exhibits.

Caverns of Senora  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. Five levels of the cave vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

>> Get more tips for visiting The Caverns of Sonora

Joshua Tree National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park and you won’t just feel like you’re in another country, you’ll feel as if you’re walking onto another planet. Filled with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region like the Joshua tree as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, the landscape has the appearance of a scene from a sci-fi flick. Joshua Tree National Park is a photographer’s, hiker’s, and climber’s dream while the village of Joshua Tree has a unique charm as an artists’ enclave home to an eclectic mix of nature lovers, artists, and hipsters.

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Bernheim Forest  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Forest

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Canadian Rockies

One of the most spectacular and beautiful places you will find anywhere, the Canadian Rockies are huge, pristine wilderness with local gems such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. All five parks combined with three British Columbia provincial parks have been name as a single UNESCO World Heritage site for the unique mountainscapes found here. Not to mention the world-famous lakes in the region. You’ll have plenty to explore with Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Maligne Lake, all stunning and fed by the glaciers in the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies

Cumberland Island National Seashore  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Botany Bay  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botany Bay

Mesa Verde National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close to the cliff dwellings on a tour.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

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

13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

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

Shenandoah National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse the park.

 >> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Enchanted Rock in Texas Hill Country  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Texas Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

 >> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Hill Country

Okanagan Valley  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua-blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Painted Churches  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that had one thing in common: their painted churches. The term painted comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork.

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Painted Churches

Columbia Icefield  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145-mile stretch of highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests. Glacier Sky Walk is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Galveston, Texas

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time. Galveston Island is home to Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mount Robson Provincial Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system is truly one of Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Museum of Appalachia  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Museum of Appalachia, 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 you’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

Natural Bridges National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

La Connor  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

>> Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Elk Island National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Elk Island National Park, Alberta

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This island of conservation is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Capitol Reef National Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit. If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold. There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

>> Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

Preparing for Sweater Weather

The fall equinox arrives on Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.
—Philip Larkin, British poet (1922–86)

It’s officially the last day of summer which means that pumpkin spice and sweater weather are basically upon us. Rather than bemoan the end of one season, I’m looking forward to everything autumn brings with it—including crisp morning air and apple cider. Consider today’s post your fall kickoff complete with a leaf-peeping guide and some great road trips for the season.

Saying farewell to the long, warm days of summer can be bittersweet but the sheer majesty of the changing fall foliage makes the transition a little bit easier. As autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter days set the trees ablaze with color, now is an ideal time to plan a leaf-peeping road trip, hike, or other excursion to take in the views.

It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
—Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fall season officially begins on Saturday, September 23. This date marks the autumn equinox or the date between the summer and winter solstices when day and night are nearly equal lengths. (We also know it as the first day of the year when you can order a pumpkin spice latte with no shame.)

During an equinox, the Sun crosses what we call the celestial equator—an imaginary extension of Earth’s equator line into space. The equinox occurs precisely when the Sun’s center passes through this line.

After the autumnal equinox, days become shorter than nights as the Sun continues to rise later and nightfall arrives earlier. This ends with the winter solstice after which days start to grow longer once again. 

The word equinox comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal” and nox, the Latin word for “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length.

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

But why do leaves change color in the fall?

Autumnal leaves in vibrant hues are a beautiful part of the season but those leaves are also a vital part of keeping trees alive. The trees with leaves that change color in fall are deciduous. (Evergreen trees with needles which stay green to continue the photosynthesis process through the winter are coniferous.) Deciduous trees usually have large, broad leaves.

Most of the year, these leaves are green because of the chlorophyll they use to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. The leaves convert the energy into sugars to feed the tree.

As the season changes, temperatures drop and days get shorter. Trees receive less direct sunlight and the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down.

The lack of chlorophyll reveals yellow and orange pigments that were already in the leaves but masked during the warmer months. Darker red leaves are the result of a chemical change: Sugars that can get trapped in the leaves produce new pigments (called anthocyanins) that weren’t part of the leaf in the growing season. Some trees like oaks and dogwoods are likely to produce red leaves.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When do fall leaves change color

Leaves can change their color from as early as mid-September through early November. Typically, the second and third weeks of October are the peak times but it shifts depending on your location and your local weather conditions.

Foliage starts to change in the northern-tier states out West and in the Midwest by late September. By October 2, the leaves in some areas will be past their prime. 

Much of New England as well as the Pacific Northwest will be at or near peak fall color by October 9. 

A little further south in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mid-October is your best bet.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina/Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See below for times of the year of peak foliage around the country:

  • Oregon: Best viewed while driving along scenic highways from mid-September through mid-October; however, color conditions vary daily based on humidity and fog density. 
  • North Carolina: North Carolina’s leaf patterns move east across the state. The first leaves in the western part of the state begin to peak the week of October 9. By October 23, the entire state should peak and the show will be pretty much over by November 1.
  • Vermont: Optimal viewing from September 18 through October 2 although the leaves will begin to change in early September.
  • New Hampshire: Leaves in New Hampshire will be at their best the last week of September. By October 16 most of the state will have changed.
  • Washington: Washington State leaves normally hit their peak the week of October 9 and past their peak by October 23.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations for viewing fall leaves

Here is a list of my picks for the most idyllic spots in the U.S. for viewing fall leaves. Some are off the beaten path, some are on more popular, scenic routes for you to enjoy whether on foot or by vehicle. I’ve also included the dates for peak foliage viewing for each location.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Peak Viewing: October 9-28

Virginia’s Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The speed limit is 35 mph with 75 overlooks to pull over and enjoy the sights of the Shenandoah Valley below. Often called one of America’s favorite mountain drives, Skyline Drive is “good for the soul.” 

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

Moab, Utah

Peak viewing: Mid September to mid October

Aside from aspens, cottonwoods, and other deciduous trees making the slow turn to brilliance, the abundant sandstone rocks change colors here, too. Shorter days and angled fall light combine to give Moab’s signature sandstone deeper, more varied colors than usual. Several different leaf-peeping routes include the La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway, the Gemini Bridges Trail, the Poison Spider Mesa Trail, and the Moab Rim Trail. Jeeps are required on all routes except the La Sal

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

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Peak viewing: Mid to late October, depending on elevation.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any terrain more perfectly orchestrated for fall color viewing than the Great Smoky Mountains. Lots of sumac adds to the brilliant reds but the Park boasts an amazing diversity of trees and terrain that add to the color spectrum—some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kancamagus Scenic Highway, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Peak viewing: September 25-October 7

The Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire known by the locals as The Kanc provides some of the most spectacular fall foliage viewing in New England. The Kanc’s 35-mile scenic pass that connects Lincoln to Conway (Route 112) has some tricky hairpin turns and no gas stations so be prepared. It does have plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the grandeur of the vistas. 

Julian apples © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Peak viewing: Early to mid-November.

In Julian, autumn is the grandstand season both for apple-pie eating and leaf-peeping. Sample the town’s homemade apple confections then watch black oaks do their color-changing trick at Lake Cuyamaca in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. A scenic 45-minute drive leads to Palomar Mountain State Park where you can put some miles on your feet while you admire bracken ferns and leafy oaks on the Thunder Ridge and Chimney Flat Loop. Or hike the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, home to some of the oldest and largest black oaks in San Diego County. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!

—A. A. Milne

The Ultimate East Coast National Parks Road Trip 

From Shenandoah in Virginia to Congaree in South Carolina, this road trip hits four national parks, covers 780 miles, and guides you away from the crowds

How’s the saying go? “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” But if you want to connect the most spectacular East Coast national parks and experience the best adventures in between maybe the saying should go: “It’s not just the destination because the journey is kickass, too.”

Follow my plan and you’ll paddle wild rivers, climb storied cliffs, and find yourself in miles of empty, stunning wilderness. Set aside a couple of weeks to complete the whole drive or carve off one leg at a time.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Royal, Virginia to Afton, Virginia

Distance: 108 miles

Route: This is a short but worthy stretch of road through Shenandoah National Park and some gorgeous mountain drives along the way.

The park: Just 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park protects a particularly pretty stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains offering a quick getaway for denizens of the Mid-Atlantic. And they show up—nearly 1.6 million of them visited the park in 2021. And most stick to Skyline Drive which draws a line through the middle of the park or flock to the summit of Old Rag, a dramatic, rocky peak with tough climbs and killer views.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To avoid the crowds, try the 3.4-mile Chimney Rock loop hike. Or bring your fly rod. The park is packed with pristine backcountry trout streams, 70 of which hold healthy populations of native brook trout. Rapidan River, a headwaters stream, offers cool history along with its bevy of trout as President Hoover established a mountain retreat where two streams join to form the Rapidan.

Need to know: You can fish for trout year-round in Shenandoah but Rapidan is catch and release only.

Stay: Skyland puts you in the heart of Shenandoah as the park lodge occupies 27 acres off milepost 41 of Skyline Drive. Even better than the location are the digs: newly renovated rooms and cabins are well appointed and the mountain views from 3,680 feet are stunning.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.

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

Afton, Virginia to Fayetteville, West Virginia

Distance: 170 miles

Route: You’ll head deep into the heart of the Southern Appalachians to explore the 63rd and most recently designated national park—New River Gorge with one of the region’s deepest gorges and some of its tallest mountains.

Detour: About 60 miles away in nearby West Virginia, Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is a hotbed of traditional climbing with hundreds of established multi-pitch routes that traverse the mountain’s unique fins of Tuscarora quartzite which rise from the canopy like a dragon’s back. If you have time, sign up for a three-day trad camp where you’ll master anchors and protection placement.

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

The park: The 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park protects some of the best whitewater rafting and rock climbing on the eastern seaboard. Less known? The 13-miles of singletrack built specifically for mountain biking. Hit the Arrowhead Trails on the south side of the gorge for fast and pedaly flow through a dense hardwood forest. The three-mile long Adena loop has the toughest climbs and quickest descents.

Need to know: Unlike many national parks, bikes are allowed on a variety of trails throughout New River Gorge including some non-technical paths that cruise by historic mining camps.

Stay: The cabin-heavy Adventures on the Gorge Resort sits on the rim of the New River Gorge, with a 350-acre campus packed with ziplines, pools, aerial adventure courses, and low key restaurants. The resort’s in-house guides will take you climbing and rafting, too. Choose from glamping tents to deluxe cabins.

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

Fayetteville, West Virginia to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Distance: 275 miles

Adventure along the drive: Take a quick detour back into Virginia on your way to Tennessee to stop at the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area—5,279-foot Rogers is the tallest peak in the state. Start in Grayson Highlands State Park and hike four miles through high-elevation mountain balds, scramble over rock outcroppings, and spy the herds of feral ponies that live free range on the ridges.

Detour: Before you hit the Smoky Mountains, soak in one of the only natural hot springs in the Southern Appalachians in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Mineral waters fill tubs in the Hot Springs Resort and Spa on the edge of the French Broad River. Book a private tub and make time for a beer at Big Pillow Brewing in downtown.

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

The park: A little over 12 million. That’s how many people visited the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year. That’s the bad news. The good news? Most of those people stick to the scenic roads and short nature trails which means the best way to ditch the crowds is to hit the backcountry. Head to the less crowded eastern side of the park accessed at a remote entrance to the park off of Heintooga Ridge Road to backpack or trail run the 13.8-mile Hemphill Bald Loop which cruises along at 5,000 feet in elevation across mountain top meadows before sinking deep into a forest of old growth poplars, babbling trout streams, and remote campsites.

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

Stay: Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year with 10 locations.

Eat and Drink: Skip the madness in Gatlinburg and head to the much quieter Townsend where traditional Southern fare is given an upscale treatment at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro. What isn’t grown onsite is sourced locally. Cheese plates are dressed with home-grown figs, and local trout is paired with tomato jam and grits.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Columbia, South Carolina

Distance: 230 miles

Route: This route begins on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most biodiverse in the country and ends in a serene swamp with a stop in everyone’s favorite North Carolina mountain town of Asheville along the way.

Adventure along the drive: Just outside of Asheville, The Riveter combines professionally built bike jump lines with a 16,000-square foot climbing gym, yoga studio, and bar. Send it inside and out then cross the street and grab a beer at Sierra Nevada’s sprawling East Coast campus.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Detour: The Chattooga River in Georgia offers 20 miles of class III-V whitewater in a pristine setting that’s designated Wild and Scenic and was the filming ground for the cult classic film Deliverance. It’s one of the most unique rafting experiences you can get on the East Coast because the number of rafters is limited and groups are spaced out to preserve the remote nature of the river. Knock out eight-mile section 4 for the biggest rapids or combine sections 3 and 4 as an overnighter with a riverside camp.

The Park: Congaree National Park doesn’t get the recognition of Great Smoky but don’t let the lack of hype—or crowds—deter you. The landscape is unlike any other as the park protects the largest expanse of old growth bottomland forest in the east. The best way to explore the park is by boat paddling a canoe along Cedar Creek where a marked 15-mile trail takes you through gnarled cypress knees and loblolly pines that reach more than 100 feet tall.

Need to know: There’s no current in the creek, so it’s an ideal out-and-back paddling adventure.

The Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay: Congaree is just 30 minutes from downtown Columbia where Sesquicentennial State Park offers 69 sites with water and electric service. Alternatively, stay at The Barnyard RV Park in nearby Lexington.

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.

—John Denver

The Best National Parks to Visit in October

Wondering where to travel in October? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in October!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or at lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashoresnational recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

In October, fall colors sweep across much of the United States. The majority of the parks that you will see on this list are parks that are ablaze in fall colors. Some of these are obvious picks such as Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains but a few may surprise you. In this guide, I list six beautiful national parks to visit in October plus four bonus parks and a road trip to link several of these together.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Visiting the National Parks in October

From mid-September through November, the leaves change from green to vivid hues of yellow, orange, and red across much of the United States. To see these brilliant fall colors, October is the best month of the year to plan your national parks road trip.

On this list are parks that show off some sort of fall colors and some are more spectacular than others. Shenandoah National Park is gorgeous this time of year and one of the top national parks to visit to see fall colors. But there are also parks like Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt that put on a show which are places that you might not associate with fall colors.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Since roads can close in the national parks at any time, I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in October

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse through the park.

Shenandoah is a beautiful park to visit in October. From the viewpoints along Skyline Drive, you can gaze across the mountains and the kaleidoscope of fall colors.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Shenandoah in October: The last two weeks of October are prime time to visit the park to see fall colors. Plus, the weather is perfect for hiking.

Weather: The average high is 60°F and the average low is 40°F. On warmer than average days, it can get up into the high 70s. Rainfall averages about 5 inches per month through the year and October is no different.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:20 am and sunset is at 6:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Skyline Drive and visit the overlooks, hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain, visit Dark Hollow Falls, enjoy the view from Hawksbill Mountain, hike to Mary’s Rock, and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike Old Rag Mountain, a 9-mile loop trail.

Old Rag is generally considered a challenging route. The best time to hike this trail is May through October. You’ll need to leave pups at home—dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. From March 1-November 30, visitors to Old Rag Mountain including hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails will need to obtain an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? You can drive the length of Skyline Drive in one day visiting the overlooks and hiking a trail or two. For a more leisurely experience or to do several more hikes plan on spending two or more days in Shenandoah.

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison, pronghorn, and other wildlife from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt is a relatively quiet park to visit all year. We visited in early October and had an awesome experience. The weather was still warm, crowds were very low, and the hint of fall colors was a nice bonus.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in October: The weather is getting cooler but this is a beautiful time to visit the park. The trees turn a nice shade of yellow adding a splash of fall color to the park. 

Weather: The average high is 58°F and the average low is 30°F. On hotter than average days, the temperature can get up into the 80s. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Plan Your Visit

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

3. New River Gorge National Park

Location: West Virginia

Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent. There is some debate among geologists about the age of this river with estimates ranging from 3 to 360 million years. During this time, the river carved out a 73,000 acre gorge in West Virginia. The sandstone cliffs and whitewater rapids create world-class rock climbing and whitewater rafting destinations. Hiking and mountain biking trails wind through the forests leading to overlooks and historic settlements.

There are two big reasons why New River Gorge is one of the best national parks to visit in October: Bridge Day and, you guessed it, fall colors.

On the third Saturday in October (October 21, 2023), the New River Gorge Bridge closes to traffic and opens to pedestrians. This is one of the largest extreme sporting events in the world. On Bridge Day, BASE jumpers leap from the bridge and rappelers ascend and descend from the catwalk. There is also a zipline that runs from the bridge to Fayette Station Road (the High Line) that you can sign up for in advance.

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

Why visit New River Gorge in October: To participate in Bridge Day and to see fall colors in the park. For peak colors, plan your visit for the last week in October into early November.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 46°F. October is one of the driest months of the year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 6:45 pm.

Top experiences: Do the Bridge Walk, hike the Long Point Trail, drive Fayette Station Road, go mountain biking and rock climbing, enjoy the view from Grandview Overlook, hike the Castle Rock Trail, and visit Sandstone Falls.

Ultimate adventure: Go white water rafting on the New River (rafting season is April through October).

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

How many days do you need? If you want to visit the three main areas of New River Gorge National Park (Canyon Rim, Grandview and Sandstone) and have enough time to go whitewater rafting, you will need three to four days. However, with less time, you can visit the highlights and hike a few of the trails.

Plan your visit

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Zion National Park is one of the best places in the United States to go hiking.

Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.

But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

Zion is a busy park to visit all year round but in October visitation begins to ease at least a little bit. And October with its warm weather and splash of fall colors is a gorgeous time to go hiking in Zion.

October is also a great time to visit the rest of Utah’s Mighty 5: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyons National Parks.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Zion in October: For fewer crowds, some fall colors, and pleasant hiking weather. If you have plans to hike the Zion Narrows, this is a good time of year to do it. The water temperature is still relatively warm and the water level is low, prime conditions for doing this hike.

Weather: The average high is 78°F and the average low is 50°F. On unusually warm days the temperature can get into the 90s. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 6:50 pm.

Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook.

Ultimate adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How much time do you need? If you plan to hike, spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Plan your visit

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park

Location: South Dakota

The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country. Bison, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep roam this larg mixed-grass prairie region. The sunrises and sunsets are magical, the hiking trails are short and sweet, and for those looking for more solitude, you can take your pick from a handful of backcountry experiences.

This is not a park that you might expect to see some fall colors but in October there are a few trees in the gullies their colors as they turn yellow and red.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Badlands in October: For fantastic weather, few crowds, and the chance to see some fall colors. 

Weather: The average high is 65°F and the average low is 38°F. On unusually warm days, it can get into the 80s. October is the end of the rainy season with 1.5 inches of rain.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 6 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Badlands Loop Road and visit the overlooks, watch the sunrise and/or the sunset, hike the Notch Trail, hike the Door and Fossil Exhibit Trails, drive Sage Creek Rim Road, visit Roberts Prairie Dog Town, hike the Castle Trail, and count how many bison you can find.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate experience, venture into the backcountry. In Badlands National Park, you are permitted to hike off-trail and the Sage Creek Wilderness and Deer Haven Wilderness are great places to go hiking and spot wildlife.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? One day in Badlands National Park gives you just enough time to visit the highlights and hike a few short trails. Make sure you catch either sunrise or sunset in the park because these are one of the best times of day to look out across the landscape. To fully experience the park add an additional day or two and be sure to make a pit stop at nearby Wall Drug.

Plan your visit

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

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, 12.9 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4.7 million visitors).

This national park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains runs through the center of the park and it is here that you will find some of the tallest peaks in eastern North America.

With over 100 species of trees that cover various elevations in the park, the peak time for fall colors lasts quite a while in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The trees first begin to change color at the higher elevations as early as mid-September. From early to mid-October, the colors slide down the mountains. Peak season comes to an end at the beginning of November when the trees at the lower, warmer elevations finally change colors.

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

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in October: For great weather for hiking and an array of fall colors.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 41°F. Rainfall is about 5 inches for October which is one of the driest months of the year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7 pm.

Top experiences: Enjoy the view from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, hike the Alum Trail to Mount LeConte, drive through Cades Cove, and drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

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

How many days do you need? You can drive the park’s main roads and visit the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in one day. To explore the parks more fully plan three to four days and avoid Cades Cove on the weekend. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in October

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Commemorating the Cold War, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site offers visitors a history of the U.S. nuclear missile program and their hidden location in the Great Plains. The site details U.S. foreign policy and its push for nuclear disarmament.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses, each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. 

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. Known as the badlands in Spanish, El Malpais was used by early Spanish map makers to describe areas of volcanic terrain. El Malpais preserves an ancient volcanic landscape and a history of human habitation.

October road trip idea

South Dakota Road Trip

With one week, you can go on a road trip in South Dakota visiting Badlands and Wind Cave National Park. Add on Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and even Devils Tower for an epic road trip. The aforementioned Minuteman Missile National Historic Site a few miles from Badlands National Park.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock