Exploring a State Park or National Park this Summer! How to Choose?

In state parks and national parks alike you’ll find things like caves and waterfalls, mountains and valleys, wide-open fields, and pristine lakes and seashores

There’s one thing you know for certain: you’re looking to get away, get outdoors, and go exploring. But where are you going? Chances are you want to visit a place where the natural world is front and center which means state parks and national parks are two of your best options. These special, protected environments are available for public use and offer plenty of opportunities for exploration, recreation, and adventure. Whatever outdoor activities you’re enthusiastic about it’s guaranteed that both national and state parks afford plenty of access to a variety of great places to pursue them.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in any case, you have no bad options! No matter which type of park you choose to visit, you’ll be able to explore endless trails, campsites, and outdoor adventure opportunities. So make your choice and get out there!

In the southeastern corner of Georgia lies the Okefenokee Swamp, a 438,000-acre wetland. The cypress-filled wilderness—with its labyrinth of black canals inhabited by some 12,000 gators—is a long drive from anywhere. The Native Americans aptly called the swamp the “land of trembling earth” because the unstable peat deposits covering much of the swamp floor tremble when stepped on.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spanish moss-laced trees sway in the breeze. A carpet of yellow bonnet lilies floats on top of the glossy dark waters of this refuge, home not only to alligators but also to turtles, black bears, herons, and many other creatures. At night, you hear the barred owls hooting deep within the forest.

More on state parks: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

One noise missing is the beep-beep of mobile devices. Cell phone service is spotty at best and honestly, you’ll be delighted by a break from the digital world. 

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

Visitors have three main entry points to choose from, each about two hours from the next. Stephen C. Foster State Park is the western entrance to the Okefenokee. It’s nestled within the much larger Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge but it offers much that the bigger reserve does not include campsites with electrical hookups, running water, and access until 10 p.m.—a plus for the stargazers attracted by its International Dark Sky designation in 2016. The park is 18 miles from the closest town of Fargo, Georgia.

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

Park staff removed 13 streetlights and switched many bulbs to light-emitting diodes (LED). They worked with a local power company to install state-of-the-art lighting which casts downward rather than outward. The staff even retrofitted outdoor lighting on park cabins to be motion-activated.

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

These days, Okefenokee’s 120 acres of state park have more fans than ever. Since the pandemic started, they’ve seen an uptick in visitation even in the summer when numbers are normally low. That’s no anomaly. As travelers seek new options for enjoying the outdoors, state parks across the country have reported rising attendance.

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

Surprisingly, as of 2019, they were already welcoming about 2.5 times more visitors than their higher-profile, federally funded counterparts despite having only 16 percent of the acreage. While many state campgrounds do book up fast, a relatively local audience means that visitors at this southern George park tend to be more evenly distributed throughout the year which preserves the low-key, less crowded atmosphere. People can be out relaxing in nature without encountering the Instagram swarms angling for photo ops in the more famous parks.

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crowd volume is also helped by the simple fact that there are more state-run options for travelers to choose from. America’s State Parks alliance tallied nearly 6,800 reserves while the National Park System manages just 423.

More on state parks: 12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

As national parks introduce timed entry tickets and day-use reservations in an attempt to tackle overtourism these laid-back siblings feel all the more inviting. Of course, 50 states mean 50 different systems for camping permits, and from park to park amenities are even more variable. Some sites are tricked out with golf courses, zip lining, and RV hookups; others, such as Maine’s Baxter and California’s Sonoma Coast state parks don’t even have running water.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As demand grows, so, too, do the choices. Texas’s first new state park in 25 years, Palo Pinto Mountains will open next year on nearly 5,000 acres halfway between Abilene and Fort Worth. Visitors will be able to hike, bike, and ride horses over the hills. There will be fishing and canoeing on Tucker Lake and campsites where you can stargaze. Once the park opens, one of the first things visitors will see is a sweeping view of the hills from a road built along a ridge. That was on purpose—to awe people on their way in and out.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And Michigan just announced $250 million in funding for state parks including $26.2 million to create one in Flint—a key investment in the community as it continues to move past its water crisis.

Older sites are getting new energy, too. Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee opened a $40.4 million, 85-room lodge this past January.

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

In five Minnesota parks, all-terrain electric wheelchairs with continuous-track treads for navigating rugged ground will be bookable as of this summer.

More on state parks: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Still, state parks grapple with the same challenges national ones do—and then some. One big concern is having enough help to manage maintenance, ticketing, and other operations.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania recently announced the creation of three new state parks. The state’s 2022-23 spending plan includes $56 million to add the new state parks to what is currently a 121-park system. The three will be the first new state parks in Pennsylvania since 2005 not counting Washington Crossing which was transferred from the state Historical and Museum Commission. The money will also help develop the state’s first park for the use of all-terrain vehicles and similar motorized recreational vehicles.

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

Delaware State Parks which have been filled with a growing number of visitors in the past few years is getting $3.2 million to upgrade some facilities. The goal is to increase the number of attractions in the popular state parks drawing even more tourists to the state. A record-breaking 8 million people visited state parks in 2021 exceeding previous attendance numbers. State officials say this year’s numbers are on track to top that total. Since 2011, reservations and occupancy for camping nights in the parks have grown 124 percent. In 2011, 67,000 nights were reserved, while last year, total reservations approached 150,000.

More on state parks: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

The Best RV Camping August 2022

Explore the guide to find some of the best in August camping

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in August. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5-star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

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

Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hee Hee Illahee RV Resort, Salem, Oregon

With a combination of 24 back-in sites (35 feet long x 20 feet wide) and 115 pull-through sites (75 feet long x 14 feet wide) available year-round even the biggest rigs will have no issue finding a suitable spot. All sites include electric (20, 30, and 50 amp), water, sewer, wired and wireless Internet, and coax television hookups along with a picnic table. Park amenities include a fitness room, seasonal pool, year-round spa, laundry facility, secure showers/bathrooms, and book library. The resort is located a short distance off Interstate 5 at Exit 258.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison—one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet and known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from, including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.

Wahweep RV Park & Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50-amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Whispering Hills RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky

Whispering Hills RV Park is nestled in the heart of horse country in Georgetown, north of Lexington. The park is located approximately 2.5 miles off I-75 at Exit 129. Whispering Hills offers 230 full-service sites including nine new premium pull-through sites in the 70-90 foot range. Amenities include a swimming pool, basketball court, laundry facility, book exchange, fishing pond, bathhouses, picnic tables, and fire rings at most sites. Our pull-through site was in the 60-foot range. Most back-in sites tend to be considerably shorter and slope downward. Interior roads and sites are gravel.

Columbia Riverfront RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbia Riverfront RV Park, Woodland, Washington

Developed in 2006 by former RVers, Columbia Riverfront RV Park is a 5-star resort. A quiet getaway on ten acres of beautifully maintained property right on the sandy beach of the Columbia River, Columbia Riverfront is big-rig friendly. With a view of the Columbia River out of our windshield, our pull-in site was 45 feet in length with room for the toad. Utilities including 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable are centrally located. Pull-through sites in the 85-95 foot range are also available. Wi-Fi works well. Interior roads are paved and sites are crushed gravel and level. Columbia Riverfront is located 22 miles north of Portland, Oregon, in Woodland off I-5 (Exit 22); west 3.25 miles on Dike Access and Dike roads.

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort, Sevierville, Tennessee

Two Rivers Landing RV Resort is a luxury RV Resort nestled along the banks of the beautiful French Broad River. A 5-star resort with 25 riverfronts (drive-in sites) and 30 river views (back-in sites), Two Rivers Landing offers 30/50-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV conveniently located centrally. Interior roads are paved; individual sites are concrete, 70 feet in length, and 22 feet wide. All sites are surrounded by beautiful landscaping. Our drive-in site faced the river. Wi-Fi worked well. A beautiful sunset looking out our front window. This is resort living at its best.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Campground, Georgia

The Jekyll Island Campground is the most affordable, convenient accommodation located near Driftwood Beach. Choose from RV and tent sites as well as amenities like free Wi-Fi, shower facilities, and onsite laundry. The campground offers 175 campsites on 18 wooded acres on the island’s north end. Options range from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewage. Wi-Fi and DSL internet are free for registered guests. The campground also will offer private yurt experiences beginning in 2023.

Fort Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia

Downtown Fort Langley is only a short walk across the Fraser River Bridge from Fort Camping which is part of Pathfinder Camp Resorts. With over 155 short-term RV sites as well as tent cabins, Fort Camping is located in the heart of a fast-growing and popular tourist town which offers endless activities onsite as well as fine dining and shopping experiences nearby. Pathfinder Camp Resorts operate Fort Camping under a license granted by Metro Vancouver Regional District.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

This southern Georgia state park is known for being one of the primary entrances to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp. The camping is great and comfortable here and the paddling and photographic opportunities are top-notch. Add to that the fact that the fishing in the lake is excellent for warmouth, bluegill, catfish, and chain pickerel. Choose from 65 campsites with electricity, nine cottages, a lodge, or a pioneer camp, and be ready for a cool experience.

Reunion Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Ponchatoula, Louisiana

Reunion Lake RV Resort is a gated resort with top-rated facilities and service and all-concrete roadways. Built around a scenic lake the park offers an adult pool with a swim-up bar, poolside cabanas, a lazy river with a tiki bar, a giant hot tub, a fitness center, a family pool, basketball, and pickleball courts, a fenced-in dog park. Our Premium pull-through site will accommodate any size rig.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

The Best RV Destinations to Explore this Spring

While summer may be the obvious choice for an RV vacation, spring can be an equally memorable time for a getaway. In many parts of the country, the flowers are in full bloom and the weather becomes more inviting by the day. What’s more, depending on where you visit, the crowds will be much smaller than in summer.

So whether you’re thinking of renting an RV or getting your RV ready for the road, here are 10 prime choices for a spring getaway around the country.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amelia Island, Florida

For anyone thinking of island destinations, Amelia Island is a secret island paradise. It has lots of hiking and biking trails and sunny spots like Fernandina Beach for sunbathing, swimming, surf fishing, and shark tooth and shell hunting. Stay overnight at one of the two on-site campgrounds at Amelia Island State Park.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History buffs will love Fort Clinch State Park where there’s a preserved Civil War-era walled plantation that features daily tours. Check out the Amelia Island Museum of History to learn about the 4,000-year-old island. Relax with a craft Bearing Rum cocktail at Marlin & Barrel Distillery or a farm-to-table dinner at Omni Amelia Island Resort and catch a live musical theater production at Amelia Musical Playhouse.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

As Utah’s oldest national park, Zion has lost none of its grandiosity since its opening in 1919. It’s a place of wonderment, the crown jewel of Utah’s epic national park system. Located in Southern Utah, its esteem has been well earned because of its array of vast and narrow canyons, rainbow rock formations, natural monuments, fantastic hiking, and stunning vistas. Don’t pass up on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. In a state made for road trips, the short and sweet journey is the icing on the cake.

Related Article: 6 Perfect Destinations to Take Your RV This Spring

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground located in Zion Canyon and is open all year round. South Campground is closed in the winter. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road (closed in winter). From mid-March through late November the campgrounds are full almost every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground are recommended. Several area campgrounds are a short drive from the park. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhill State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

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

Okefenokee, Georgia

One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, the 700-square-mile Okefenokee Swamp was once part of the ocean floor. Even the patches of land dotting the wetland are not too stable; trees often shake like they’re about to be torn from the earth and capsize. The name Okefenokee comes from a Creek word meaning “trembling earth.” Located in the middle of the swamp, in the southeast corner of Georgia, is Stephen C. Foster State Park—remote and filled with wildlife, nature, and few people, it’s a perfect camping destination. 

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

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

It’s true what they say about West Virginia―it really is wild and wonderful! The New River Gorge area is GORGEous (get it?) in spring; imagine tree-covered mountains in bloom with a whitewater river, one of the oldest on the continent, running through it. With more than 100 trails for hiking and biking, this national treasure is a thrill-seeker’s paradise with many opportunities to get wild. The area is known for its whitewater rafting, fishing, and BASE jumping off of the nation’s third-largest bridge. With plenty of unspoiled wilderness to enjoy, New River Gorge is a place of beauty, especially in spring. 

Related Article: Prep Your RV for Spring Travel

Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve provides opportunities for primitive camping only. Camping areas are located along the river. These primitive camping areas have no drinking water or hookups, and limited restroom facilities. RV camping is available at nearby Babcock State Park.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families for a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months during the winter.

Jekyll Island Club  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Goulds, and Cranes and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms).

Jekyll Island Campground  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages. A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel and oceanfront properties. RV camping is available at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 206 campsites on the Island’s north end.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Two of largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park Colorado

The Pueblo people definitely left their mark on the American West and their way of life remains intact at sites like Mesa Verde. The region is chalk full of thousands of archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings dating back to the 5th century. Carved into cliffs sitting 8,500 feet above sea level and surrounded by inhospitable desert landscapes, the tenacity and ingenuity of these ancient people is undeniable.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park entrance is about 45 minutes from Durango and the best time to see Mesa Verde is May through October when some of the dwellings allow the public to visit. Check out the tons of petroglyphs all along the Petroglyph Point Trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

10 Amazing Places to RV in December

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

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Lost Dutchman and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

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

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

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

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

16 of the Best State Parks in America

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

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

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

Big Bend Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

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

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

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

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

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

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

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

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

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

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

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

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

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

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

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

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

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

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

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

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

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

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

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

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

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

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Stephen C. Foster State Park: Rich in History and Isolation

This remote park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure.

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

Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Though the park is only about 120 acres, it is a prime access point to the 700 square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and its most famous island―Billy’s Island. The name “Billy’s Island” has a bit of a legendary history. Some claim that it came from the famous Native American chief―Chief Billy Bowlegs―of the Seminole Indian wars. Others claim there was a man named “Indian Billy” that lived there in the early 1800s and was murdered by some cattleman.

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

That aside, the most famous residents of the island, which then and now is only accessible by boat, were the Lee’s. James Lee started living a self-sufficient lifestyle with his family in the 1860s. His family had livestock and crops and they hunted, fished, and had everything they needed.

As is the case in most American stories, modern technology comes in and completely uproots, literally in this case, the frontier way of life. In 1907, a logging company moved in and introduced modern society to this contented family. In the next two decades, the company would clear 425 million board feet, the vast majority being old growth cypress trees, all the while setting up a movie theater, a cafe, a whole little town on Billy’s Island to support the operation.

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

Think about what it was like being the Lee’s. You are living with nature, utilizing its resources and all of a sudden this company brings other people from other places and destroys your way of life. As most adaptable families do, sons and grandsons of James Lee worked for the logging company, helping the swamp-foreigners to navigate and survive in the hostile environment of the swamp.

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

When the logging company left, so did the town and the rest of civilization. As with all things in the swamp―the water, roots, and mud overtook the town and all that remains of its past is some rusty fences and a few gravestones. Descendants of the Lee’s still remain in the area, along with other swamp families.

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

Today, Billy’s Island, along with the swamp, is the way it has been for thousands of years―a black water reservoir, filled with islands, black bears, alligators, waterways, and little remnants of the people who try to survive there. As it is, what most would call, an undesirable place to live, there have always been outsiders and people seeking refuge from whatever is haunting or hunting them.  

Escaped slaves have passed through as it is a great place to hide. Native Americans―the Seminole tribes―have made the swamp home at various times throughout history, most recently in an effort to escape forced exile in the 1800s.

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

Surely a place so rich in history and isolation has its share of ghost stories. There are various reports of mystical hazes, ghosts, bigfoot, and alien abductions that are easy to find and hard to substantiate, but there is an interesting story that come out of the swamp that, at least, comes from reliable resources.

The story is relatively recent and returns us to Billy’s Island. In 1996, a former park ranger from New York was visiting the swamp and disappeared. A search party looked for him for several days and weeks. Then, 41 days later, the ranger was found leaning against a tree with tattered clothes and bug bites everywhere. He claimed he got lost and survived on what the island gave him.

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

Some folks are skeptical of his story, due to Billy’s Island only being 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and there was no evidence of him trying to get help, however the facts of him being discovered 41 days after disappearing are true and the story was widely published at the time of it happening.  

All the historical richness and vastness of the swamp is at the fingertips of Stephen C. Foster State Park. They have all sorts of activities―star-watching (and alligator watching!) at night, canoeing, hiking, movies, and more. Stephen C. Foster is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky.

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

The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851

10 Amazing Places to RV in January

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

January is a great time to travel and if you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sun there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and as we head into winter, it’s now impacting snowbird travel. Canadian snowbirds won’t be flocking south this winter to escape the cold and snowy weather. With their wings clipped by border closures, Canadian snowbirds are trading in the golf clubs for snow shovels, preparing for the long Canadian winter ahead.

Naturally, RVers—and, in particular, Canadian snowbirds­—are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Also check out our recommendations from January 2019 and January 2020.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park, Litchfield Park, Arizona

Wildlife World Zoo has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows. Wildlife World Zoo is a 215-acre facility which specializes in African and South American animals. The Log Flume Ride surrounds three primate islands and takes riders past aquatic animals and through the Aquarium’s south pacific reef tunnel tank—the longest acrylic tunnel in Arizona—before splashing down three stories. With more than 75 indoor exhibits, the aquarium hosts sea life from sharks to stingrays to piranha and sea lions. Slow down and enjoy the view from high atop the Idearc Media Skyride. This round trip through the tree tops is approximately 15 minutes and will give you an unparalleled view of the park.

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

Stargazing at Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Pack your binoculars and head down south for blackwater and dark skies. This remote park is not only the primary entrance to one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, the Okefenokee Swamp, but is also a certified “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association. With minimal light pollution, guests to Stephen C. Foster can experience some incredible stargazing. During the day, cruise through the black waters and cypress trees while watching alligators and wildlife cruise by. At night, when the day winds down, enjoy the serene sounds of nature and take in the light show above.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few landscapes warp the mind quite like Joshua Tree National Park, a lumpy, Seussian dreamscape that beguiles the imagination. There are a couple of ways to best explore the park, and both take place on foot: hiking to points of interest and rock climbing. A climbing mecca, there are 8,000 climbing routes in Joshua Tree.  While the best hikes in Joshua Tree show off the best of the rock outcroppings especially at Arch Rock Nature Trail and Hidden Valley Nature Trail, the most interesting flora can be found while on the road. The Cholla Cactus Garden showcases one of the parks most peculiar and comical plant inhabitants and the Ocotillo Patch in the Pinto Basin ignites after rain when the 30-foot-tall ocotillo cactus blooms.

Manatee at Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

After months spent roaming the coast, the cooling temperatures of early autumn begin to drive manatees back to the rivers of Florida, packing the state with huge populations of these iconic mammals. Manatee viewing season peaks in the dead of winter, but those who get an early start can spot some of the year’s early movers without the hassle of huge crowds, providing an intimate viewing experience that’s tough to recreate once the season really kicks in. Your best bet for spotting manatees is Crystal River, an area rife with natural springs that create a safe haven for the gentle beasts with year-round populations calling the waterways home.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Arizona

Yuma is officially the sunniest place on earth so it must have been particularly torturous for those locked in the tiny, airless cells of Yuma Territorial Prison. The first prisoners, incarcerated in July 1876, were even made to build their own cells—during a searing Sonoran Desert summer. Though it was held up as a model example of a prison for its time, punishments were harsh by modern standards. Those who broke prison rules were kept in a dark, solitary cell while those who attempted to escape were attached to a ball and chain. The last prisoners were moved to new facilities in Florence in 1909 and now the buildings including adobe structures are part of Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park comprising a museum that gives a fascinating insight into 19th-century prison life. Visitors can peer into the iron-barred cells, some of which held six prisoners at a time and the stifling solitary chamber and view photographs of former inmates.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Gulf Coast 

Stretching some 350 miles from Beaumont and the Louisiana border all the way to South Padre Island and the Rio Grande Valley, this region is renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty as well as the home of America’s space program. You’re never far from the sand on this trip—from the Galveston Seawall through the bird-watching trails of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and South Padre Island beach life. There’s good food and good fun all the way down the curve of the Texas coast. Other highlights include Goose Island State Park, the beach towns of Rockport-Fulton and Port Aransas, and the waterfront city of Corpus Christi

Corkscrew Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples, Florida

Naples is a city located along the southwestern Florida coast on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is known best for its high-end shops and world-class golfing. Naples Pier has become an icon of the city and is a popular spot for fishing and dolphin watching. On both sides of the pier you’ll find beautiful beaches with white sand and calm waves. At nearby Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary outdoor enthusiasts will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles, Georgia

Although Georgia’s beaches are some of the biggest attractions for visitors to the Golden Isles, there are numerous other activities and events to enjoy during your stay in St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, or Brunswick. The temperate climate and beautiful scenic backdrop provide ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Quaint shopping boutiques, first-class dining experiences, unique attractions, and historical tours of the islands and mainland provide one-of-a-kind experiences that will make your trip unforgettable.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Go Here, Not there: 7 State Parks that Rival National Parks

Skip the traffic, crowds, and costs

America’s 61 national parks are some of America’s greatest national treasures. Yellowstone National Park was first, designated in 1872, and 44 years later, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service. This was an official way to commit to protecting and preserving America’s most beautiful and unique natural spaces, ecosystems, and habitats for future generations to enjoy.

Fast forward a century plus, and the number of annual visits to national parks has surpassed 300 million.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s great that so many people appreciate this great resource and want to get out and enjoy the parks, anyone who’s sat in an endless line of traffic to enter Zion or Arches in Utah knows that the popularity of national parks can hinder the beauty of the experience.  Visiting a national park becomes less appealing when you take into account the mobs of people elbowing each other to take a selfie at the Grand Canyon and the overcrowded parking lots and scenic overlooks.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the national parks are some truly fantastic state parks that aren’t getting the crowds or the attention. These smaller unsung heroes feature scenery and outdoor adventures that rival national parks. And fewer visitors mean easier access to parking space, hiking trails, fishing spots, and campsites. Another bonus: if you’re traveling with Fido, most state parks allow dogs on trails whereas national parks do not.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10,234 state parks in the U. S., spanning 18 million acres, so get out there and explore. Here are some notable parks to get you inspired. Go ahead and argue with our choices, but here’s our list of places that we can’t stop drooling over.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This park has several dramatic scenic overlooks and an 8-mile hiking trail that includes vistas from the East and West Rim Trails. There’s a 17-mile single track mountain biking trail and road biking options. Three campgrounds include RV campsites, yurts, and hike-in tent-only campsites.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park named after the popular Southern songwriter is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a short walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Anza Borrego State Park, California

Anza Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert is the palm oases which you come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty. Anza Borrego has numerous camping options with four established campgrounds and 175 total campsites.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

4 Best Georgia State & National Parks

From the Chattahoochee National Forest to the still waters of steamy swamps and coastal seashore, there’s so much to explore in Georgia

Several of Georgia’s parks preserve attractions known as the state’s Seven Natural Wonders, including the picturesque Okefenokee Swamp. Excellent fishing opportunities abound throughout the mountain lakes and manmade reservoirs while hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails provide unique vantage points to observe the scenery of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain regions.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a spectacular National Park Service-managed national seashore located along Cumberland Island. The seashore is only accessible via boat from the park’s visitor center in the nearby mainland town of St. Mary’s. Stunning sand dune, salt marsh, and freshwater lake habitats are preserved throughout the seashore area which also includes the 9,886-acre Cumberland Island Wilderness and several historic sites related to the Carnegie family.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seashore visitors may bring their own bikes to the island or rent bikes from the Sea Camp Dock for daily exploration. Overnight camping is offered at the park’s public campsites, including a full camping area with restrooms and facilities. Back on the mainland, the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum showcases exhibits on the region’s indigenous history and Antebellum-era plantations.

Laura S. Walker State Park

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, an oasis where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven. Located near the northern edge of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. For years, the lake has remained popular with boaters, skiers and jet skiers, but recently the area has become a hit with bass and crappie anglers. 

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. The park, which is located within the broader 402,000-acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016 to protect its unique and sensitive swamp ecosystem.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours. Wildlife watchers can enjoy chances to catch glimpses of the park’s population of more than 12,000 American alligators along with black bears, deer, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Exhibits on the park’s wildlife are showcased at its Suwannee River Visitor Center which also offers interpretive programming.

Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is a 233-acre state park that was one of Georgia’s first two state parks at its founding in 1931. The park which is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the impressive Blood Mountain is also one of Georgia’s highest-altitude parks sitting at elevations of over 2,500 feet above sea level.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A public visitor center museum focuses on the park’s history and construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps with features detailing the park’s connection to the Great Depression. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters along with a seasonal swimming beach available to visitors of all ages throughout the summer months.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Stephen Foster State Park: Land of Trembling Earth

What better way to begin a winter southern adventure than a stop at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Stephen C. Foster State Park, named after the popular Southern songwriter, is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia.

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

Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.  Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife. Inhabiting the lush vegetation of the Okefenokee are 223 species of birds, 41 of mammals, 54 of reptiles, and 60 of amphibians.

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

In an earlier post we explored the East (main) Entrance to Okefenokee, located 11 miles southwest of Folkston. Using Okefenokee RV Park in Folkston as our home base we continued our exploration of Okefenokee with a day trip to Suwannee River Visitor Center at Fargo and Stephen C. Foster State Park (West Entrance), a distance of 160 miles return. Both entrances to Okefenokee are located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is located on Jones Island, 18 miles northeast of Fargo on State Highway 177. The Suwannee River, which flows past this park, is the main outlet of Okefenokee Swamp. Stephen Foster, who wrote the song “Way Down Upon The Suwannee River,” is the namesake for this preserve.

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

This is the only entry point to Okefenokee Swamp with overnight RV accommodations. The campground at Stephen Foster State Park offers 64 campsites with water, electrical, and cable TV hookups. Amenities include rest rooms with hot showers, laundry facilities, fire rings, picnic tables, and a small store. There are numerous sites suitable for large rigs; however, extreme care is required when navigating the interior roads. The park offers nine overnight cabins for your non-RVing friends as well as a marina with rental boats and a trading post that supplies fishing and picnic paraphernalia.

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

A half-mile wheelchair-accessible nature trail includes a boardwalk and a sampling of the trembling earth so characteristic of the Okenfenokee. A visitors center has interpretive exhibits. But the best way to see the swamp is by water. There are 25 miles of well-marked water trails within the swamp. A horsepower limit applies to water craft.

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

You can take a guided tour of the swamp or rent a powered johnboat to see Billy’s Island, once the site of the Okefenokee’s largest settlement during the cypress-logging era. It is estimated that more than 431 million board feet of timber was taken from the area between 1909 and 1927. The only remnants of the logging today are rusted and ruined equipment. But the swamp is still alive.

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

Also a popular fishing area, anglers try for jack fish, bream. and catfish.

A water trail also leads to Minnie’s Lake, another popular fishing area amid the towering cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss.

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

Make sure to stop by the Suwannee River Visitor Center, where you can learn about the area wildlife. Located in Fargo, southwest of Stephen Foster State Park and backed by Spanish-moss draped trees, the Suwannee River Visitor Center overlooks a bend in the black-water river where people can fish and launch boats.

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

Inside, visitors learn that tannic acid produced by decaying vegetation is what gives the river its tea color, and that unlike other reptiles, mother alligators actively care for their babies. Animal displays include a black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish, and numerous birds, including a wood stork.

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

A short film takes visitors on a leisurely trip through the river and swamp, highlighting flowers, insects, misty morning fog, and the many creatures that call the waters home. The center also includes exhibits on the timber industry, local history, and energy efficiency.

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

The Suwannee River Visitor Center is operated by Stephen C. Foster State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851