Visit a National Park but Skip the Big Name Ones

America’s big name parks are attracting major crowds. Here’s where to avoid them.

As summer creeps into full swing and cities across America do the dance of easing and then reinstating COVID-19 restrictions, people are clamoring to be someplace—most anyplace—besides their own homes. While there is no form of travel that’s 100 percent safe right now, there are certainly more responsible options than others for scratching the itch.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks with their wide-open space are more befitting a socially distant vacation than, say, popular resort towns or theme parks. But even vast wilderness expanses have potential for riskier areas—visitor centers, for one, and popular trailheads near crowded parking areas. And then there are the crowds at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful or the scenic drive at Zion National Park which has been so popular since reopening that the park had to cap access at 6:30 a.m.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now more than ever, this is the time to visit some of America’s lesser-known national parks. Steering clear of the hoard of tourists at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains, exploring new territory provides a sense of discovery with the added benefit of fewer people. The adventure doesn’t stop at park boundaries, either, as these less-famous parks are often surrounded by small communities rich with their own charms.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As enticing as all this sounds, it’s important that travelers tread carefully in and around all national parks since these smaller gateway communities are not equipped to handle a potential outbreak brought in from visitors. It’s a double-edged sword for small businesses that rely on tourism dollars to survive. That is why it’s important to maintain the same caution on your road trip as you maintain at home. Wherever you are, social distancing and adherence to health mandates are important in order to support these communities while keeping them safe.

So, with safety top of mind, here are some alternative parks to consider for your 2020 summer escape.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Judging by the fact that Congaree sees about 3 percent of the annual visitors of parks like Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain, it seems many people don’t even know this South Carolina park exists. Located in the middle of the state, the swamp-like terrain feels part Everglades and part Sequoia with the tallest trees east of the Mississippi and intertwining waterways ripe for paddling.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s front and backcountry areas are open including all hiking trails, Boardwalk, restrooms, picnic shelter, Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, and canoe landings. Note that parts of the Boardwalk and Weston Lake Loop Trail remain closed due to flood damage. Cedar Creek is a narrow waterway that weaves through hardwood forest so tall and dense that it blocks out the sun. For easy hiking, out-of-the-way trails like the River Trail and Oakridge Trail are currently accessible. The park is within 20 miles of the state capital of Columbia. The Barnyard RV Park in nearby Lexington offers a convenient home base for exploring the area.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This sprawling west Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres, in fact) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm offering shaded respite along the meandering Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size, geographic diversity, and faraway locale, this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The surrounding communities are rich with character but low on crowds like the dusty ghost town of Terlingua which is emerging as a tranquil artist’s enclave and the peaceful riverside town of Lajitas. There are several campgrounds and RV parks in Big Bend and surrounding communities.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park is once again beckoning visitors itching to hike, drive along the Mesa Top Loop Road, and marvel at the park’s famed cliff dwellings and structures. At just over 50,000 acres, the park is perfect for its mesa-skimming scenic drives and hiking trails that make you feel like you’re traipsing through the clouds surrounded by panoramic views of the surrounding valley.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has reopened using a phased approach. Some areas are open on a self-guided basis while other facilities and areas remain closed. Cliff dwellings are closed and tours are canceled until further notice. But there are many superb viewpoints along the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loop Roads

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Badlands, petrified wood, bison, pronghorns, and wild horses make it clear what endeared President Theodore Roosevelt to this tranquil part of the country. And you’re more likely to encounter chirping prairie dogs on your hike than people.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is comprised of three separate areas of land. The North and South Units feature scenic drives, eroded sandstone formations, wildlife viewing, hiking, visitor centers, and the meandering Little Missouri River. The undeveloped Elkhorn Ranch Unit preserves the site of Roosevelt’s “home ranch” in a remote area along the Little Missouri River.

Visitors can access South Unit Visitor Center, trails, picnic areas, roads, and backpack camping. Painted Canyon and North Unit visitor centers and all campgrounds remain closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The world-famous caverns—brimming with stalagmites, stalactites, and a colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats—has partially reopened. The visitor center is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. For social distancing entrance tickets to the cavern are limited to 575 visitors per day and available on a first-come, first-served basis at the visitor center.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bat flight amphitheater is closed to protect the bats and social distancing for visitors and staff. Bat flights can still be observed from the visitor center parking lot and a ranger presented Bat Flight Program can be listened to on a vehicle radio.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With nearly 50 miles of trails through the peaceful Chihuahuan Desert, from Rattlesnake Canyon to Guadalupe Ridge, there’s plenty to explore, and plenty of opportunity to break away from crowds and convene with cacti and roadrunners.

Worth Pondering…

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

— John Muir

Summer’s Not Cancelled: Before You Plan Your Summer Road Trip, Read This

Let’s face it: 2020 has been rough. That’s why we’re looking to find moments of joy and pleasure this summer.

Flights are mostly grounded, the Canada/U.S. border is shuttered, and after three months of mandatory staycation, cabin fever is at an all-time high. You need to get out of the house, we get it. But is it safe to travel this summer? Where can you travel to? And what do you need to know before hitting the open highway? Here, a guide to the great American (and Canadian) road trip of 2020 including the dos and don’ts of travel, what you need to pack, and the best places for a pee break.

Camping on Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is camping a better option than staying in a hotel or renting a cottage?

Camping is definitely COVID-friendly since it involves zero time indoors and minimal interaction with other people outside of your bubble. Most national and state parks and campgrounds have re-opened in recent weeks, so go forth—just beware the communal campground bathroom.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs are the way to travel this summer

When social-distancing norms came into place, the RV industry looked at itself, blinked, and realized it was about to experience a silver lining in an otherwise tough global situation. If there’s any moment that RV life would take over the world, it’d be this one.

Waiting for service at the Freightliner Custom Chassis Service Center in Gaffney, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And so far, “taking over the world” it just might. A recent survey conducted by the Cairn Consulting Group shows that Americans and Canadians are—more than ever—hard-pressed to find ways to travel, get into nature, and break from the daily chaos but with quarantine still in mind. In other words, we’re ready to hit the outdoors for RV adventures.

Getting back to nature on Avery Island in Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, it’s just safer. You’re self-contained. No shared toilet seats, no stuffing into a flying sardine tube. And it’s cheaper than a lot of options—given the current economic climate, that’s a big no-brainer. You have your own space, plus many amenities offered at a resort.

The Lakes at Chowchilla Golf and RV Resort offers numerous amenities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs come in practically every shape and size because RVers are not one-size-fits-all. Some like rigs that help to disconnect for days in places like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) free dispersed camping areas and bring only the necessities with us. 

Truck camper at Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Teardrop trailer sales exploding

As with any crisis—locally, nationally or globally, people need to make adjustments. The long tentacles of COVID-19 are far-reaching. But people are resourceful; they roll with the punches including economic punches. There are people who are struggling to stay safe and isolated while others are just trying to keep a roof over their heads. 

A mini-trailer at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even the most modest of trailers have become a sight for sore eyes. Teardrop trailer sales in particular, have boomed in the recent months. They’re simple, but they get the job done. They provide dependable shelter and a place to sleep. Some even come equipped with bathrooms and a mini kitchen.

A teardrop trailer at Distant Drums RV Park in Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are nine teardrops you can check out online that are popular with campers:

  • Micro Minnie by Winnebago
  • The Happier Camper
  • iCamp Elite Travel Trailer
  • The Little Guy Max Tear Drop Camper
  • Timberline Trailer by HomeGrown
  • The Scamp 13-Foot Teardrop Camper
  • The KZ Spree Escape Mini
  • 2019 nuCamp RV T@B 320 S Boondock
  • The Jayco Hummingbird
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What if I just want to hit the open road and see where the wind takes me?

With all due respect, summer 2020 is probably not the best time to live out your Jack Kerouac fantasy. Planning in advance is essential and that includes a pandemic-specific packing list. Make sure to stock up your COVID kit before departure. Face masks, Lysol wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper as the new road trip essentials. These items are in high demand and may be out of stock.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s where to hit the road

If you’re lucky enough to have access to your home on wheels, where should you go? These options are beautiful and located along major road-trip routes in the US, meaning there are plenty of places to refuel and relax.

Bay St. Louis, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One important note: We do not want to suggest you bombard beautiful places, rural areas, or small towns. Ideally, you will gather all your supplies where you live and make minimal stops during your trip. Keep to yourself as much as possible, and have a plan B at the ready. If your destination looks busy, pass it.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Make it a good day! Get outdoors!

Adventure is Just around the (Four) Corners

The Four Corners area represents more than the connection point of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A tourism destination by itself or a perfect addition to Arches and Canyonlands itineraries, Four Corners is a journey into sweeping landscapes with human and geologic history. Culturally, the region is a combination of Mexican, Mormon, Navajo, Hopi, Ute, and Zuni ancestry. It is a part of the Colorado Plateau, a geological formation responsible for much of the snow and rainfall over the central U. S.

Here are eight adventures in the Four Corners region that RV travelers shouldn’t miss.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

The iconic landscape of Monument Valley symbolizes the American West with its towering buttes and sweeping skies. Located on the Utah-Arizona border, a 17-mile loop drive takes visitors through the park with guided tours also available which allow access to more remote areas of the park. The 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail is open for unguided hiking. A $20 cash-only fee is charged to enter the park, and the on-site The View Campground has views living up to its name.

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell

Stretching from the beginning of the Grand Canyon at Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is graced with scenic views, unique geology, and evidence of 10,000 years of human history. Within the recreation area, Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U. S. and is widely recognized as a premier boating destination.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges is home to three expansive rock arches and the first International Dark Sky Park. Though less accessible than Utah’s national parks, it is just as grand. At 6,500-feet in elevation atop the massive Cedar Mesa the park is a little cooler in the heat of summer than other parks. Abundant hiking, stargazing, and canyoneering make this a quiet haven for those looking to explore a little off the beaten path.

Canyon de Chelly showing Spider Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly offers a spectacular collection of sheer red sandstone cliffs forming a maze of canyons that all lead into the main Canyon de Chelly. Although none of the cliffs exceeds 1,000 feet the huge 800-foot monolith Spider Rock is an awesome sight. Part of the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly is also home to thousands of Ancestral Pueblo ruins and archaeological sites dating as far back as 2500 BC.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Explore a variety of structures, including multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. The construction and attention to detail will leave you marveling at the skill and motivation of the builders.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park (Spanish for green table) was established to preserve archaeological sites built by the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years (550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.). Currently Mesa Verde has over 4,700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings and the mesa top sites of pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures. These sites are some of the most notable and best-preserved dwellings in the U. S.

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Bridge

Navajo Bridge was the only vehicle structure spanning the Grand Canyon until it was replaced in 1995 by a new bridge immediately next to it. The old bridge was kept as a pedestrian bridge, and today visitors can walk across and take in the beginning of the Grand Canyon at Marble Canyon and the Colorado River 467 feet below. Often seen are Grand Canyon rafters and endangered California condors with nine-foot-wide wing spans.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers is home to many different types of travel experiences from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to moderate hikes through Islands in the Sky and the Needles district.

Worth Pondering…

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

—Lawrence Block

Advice to Help You Get Outside This Summer

Tips for people who don’t really camp but kinda want to camp

It’s the summer of camping. It’s the summer of RV rentals and takeout picnics, of visiting national parks, and exploring small towns. Summer has always been the season of road trips, but this year, being able to escape the four walls you’ve been quarantining in holds even more appeal.

Versailles, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After spending half the year cooped up inside due to a certain virus we’re all sick of thinking about, our need for a good old fashioned camping trip has never been greater.

But camping can be intimidating, especially for first-timers. The key is preparation.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring (sunscreen and socks!), what to do (hike and stargaze!), and what to know (bears and bug prevention!) for a successful camping trip.

Socks might be the most important thing you pack. No kidding! Wet socks—whether from rain, mud, sweat, or a wet trail—make feet blister easier which can pretty much end your fun times right there.

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To avoid unwanted run-ins with bears and other wily critters, you’ll need to put all of your “smellables” away (this includes toothpaste). If you plan on doing any hiking in bear country, invest in some bear spray.

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget the deet. And don’t stress about it too much, either. Past health problems caused by the insect repellent were mostly due to overapplication and ingestion. If you apply as the label recommends (once a day, to exposed skin only), and wash it off at the end of the day, you’ll be fine. It certainly beats risking mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile—or the woes of being the mosquito magnet at camp.

An added benefit of camping: You might just wake up to the sight of a rugged mountain range bathed in morning sunlight, like we did in the photo below at Catalina State Park.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shutdown-induced boredom renewed our appreciation for scenic drives; now, we’re going full-on day trip, complete with roadside attractions, oldies on the radio, and a cooler in the back—but wait. 

Weekenders, meanwhile, are back in love with RVs. According to industry predictions, 46 million people plan to hit the road in an RV this summer. And it’s not just seniors getting in on the wonderful world of sewer drains and s’mores; millenials who used to roll their eyes at their parents’ traditional ways are largely behind the wheel. 

Camping in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those motorhomes, camper vans, and trailers are bottlenecking the national parks which are reopening across the country to renewed enthusiasm. For self-contained campers—those whose idea of roughing it includes being able to keep all your stuff within 10 feet—campsite reservations are among the hottest tickets to be had. Want to camp in Arches? Check back in October, when some spots might open up.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the more popular parks at capacity, people are discovering America’s beautiful B-sides: Enter national forests with millions of acres to explore and hardly any people. America’s 154 national forests cover more than 188 million acres across 40 states: three times the total area protected by the 62 national parks. State parks, county and regional parks, and the lesser-loved national parks are now as valid a destination as Disney World reminding us that sprawling protected lands should never be taken for granted. So yeah, you’ve got options in these favorite often-overlooked natural playgrounds from coast to coast.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These throwbacks to the “good old days” have always been available to us. But a funny thing happened this spring when we all started to hunker down, faced with unprecedented anxiety about the still-uncertain future: Collectively, people yearned not just for fresh air, but for the familiar

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The past is telling us that the best way to experience the present is to hop in an oversized vehicle and hit the road. To take a three-hour detour to see the world’s largest pistachio nut or some cute little town that somebody said has good pie. To struggle with a cheap popup tent and tell ghost stories with our friends. To get out this summer and barrel down the highway to rediscover places from our youth.

Discover cute little towns like Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For now, those simple pleasures of discovery and escape from an increasingly fraught world—and sometimes, that’s enough.

Worth Pondering…

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams

Celebrating Independence Day during the Pandemic

Happy Birthday, USA! Like all birthdays this summer, celebration will probably look a little different than usual.

2020 is shaping up to be the summer—maybe even the year—of the road trip. Pent up demand to get out of town is ramping up with millions of Americans planning to hit the highway for Fourth of July.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After months of staying home, many Americans are itching to get away during the Fourth of July holiday bringing a bump up in travel, particularly short trips by car or recreational vehicle. But many vacationers also appear to be making last-minute decisions as they navigate travel restrictions, canceled fireworks, and uncertainty amid rising coronavirus cases across much of the country.

Road trip along the Blue Ridge Highway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent story in the Detroit News indicated that sales of bikes, kayaks, and other outdoor gear is at an all-time high, and in fact, some major outdoor retailers are completely sold out of these items. The owner of a bike store in the region stated that he has had his two best months of bike-related accessories and bike repair in over 20 years of business.

Hiking in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recent studies have shown that people are beginning to return to travel, but they are looking for unique outdoor experiences, as is being proven by their outdoor equipment purchasing habits. Also, people can travel and enjoy the outdoors in such a manner that allows for social distancing. The trend coincides with the most significant increase in Google “camping” searches in nearly a decade.

Canoeing in Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Having all you need at your fingertips including kitchen, bedroom, toilet and shower, and entertainment center coupled with the ability to easily change course adds to a sense of freedom following COVID-19’s lengthy lockdown.

Fishing at Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not everyone is venturing out to cure cabin fever. Only 18 percent of Americans have taken an overnight trip since March, according to a survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. A majority said they have no plans to travel for the rest of 2020.

Utah Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the latest projections from the AAA, Americans will take more than 700 million trips this summer but that number is down nearly 15 percent or 120 million trips from last July through September. It’s the first decline in summer travel since 2009 when cash-strapped Americans were trying to climb out of the recession. Airline travel is expected to see a nosedive of 74 percent due to coronavirus fears while cruises, buses, and train travel will be further sunk by about 86 percent.

Fishing at Port Aransas, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s where the good old American road trip comes in. Nationally, road-tripping will only decrease by 3 percent with 683 million summer road trips still taking place. Awareness of crowds, self-contained travel, and lower fuel prices are changing the name of the travel game. The spirit of the open road and freedom that comes with departing your driveway has been a staple of travel for generations.

Camping in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular destinations and even some states may raise or lower their restrictions at the drop of a hat. But driving gives people a chance to change their travel plans at the last minute.

Camping at Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With all due respect, summer 2020 is probably not the best time to live out your Jack Kerouac fantasy. Planning in advance is essential, and that includes a pandemic-specific packing list.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AAA lists masks, Lysol wipes, toilet paper, gloves, sanitizer, health insurance cards, and thermometer as the new road trip essentials. Make sure to stock up your COVID kit before departure: These items are in high demand and may be out of stock.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are requiring travelers from states with outbreaks to self-quarantine for 14 days. Other states have varying policies and recommendations. Before you head out to camp for the July 4th weekend, or any weekend, be sure to CALL FIRST.

Although we all need to maintain social distancing and follow CDC guidelines for avoiding the COVID-19 virus, your family can still enjoy the July 4th celebration.

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

Go camping – Camping is a) perfect for social distancing b) surrounded by natural air filters and c) an excellent excuse to go offline. As we’ve been saying, camping and the outdoors are the safest ways to enjoy nature and have fun.

Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnic with your family – Grill those favorites…burgers, hot dogs, potatoes, and make s’mores over your campfire. 

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie

Best Places for RV Travel this July

Fill up the tires, top off the tank, and pile in the RV for the best summer road trip of your life

July is the birth month of Julius Caesar and that’s why the month was named after him. July is also the first month on the traditional calendar that isn’t named after a god or goddess of Roman or Greek origins, but is named after a real person.

Black Hills of South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the Fourth of July this week, there is an extra emphasis on outdoor activities in the age of COVID-19—due to the open air as well as the ability to easily social distance. As such, a number of national and state parks around the country are open while others plan to do so just in time for the holiday. This is a very good social-distancing type of vacation. It’s just you and your family and your RV out there in the great outdoors.

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

There’s also a chance to catch North Dakota in a rare moment of warmth. Or just crash out on the beach. The sun is strong and temperatures soar far and wide—South Dakota, New Hampshire, even North Dakota, for god’s sake. Enjoy.

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in April, May, and June. Also check out our recommendations from July 2019.

Needles Highway in the Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

Road-trippers are too often guilty of blowing through South Dakota with a soda stop at Wall Drug and a quick gawk at Mount Rushmore, then back to I-90 and onward. Well, ease off the gas a bit. SoDak has a lot going on. The Black Hills would hold their own as a national park replete with winding scenic drives, deep forests (the “black” in Black Hills), sparkling lakes, world-class caverns, and the tallest mountain east of the Rockies. Even the farm-and-prairie country to the east, bisected by the Missouri River, is sprinkled with gems, particularly if you’re drawn to lakes and rivers.

New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire

New Hampshire is heavily forested and riddled with rocky crags and more than 1,300 lakes. The steep, rugged White Mountains are a collection of 4,000-foot peaks that dominate the northern portion of the state. Move south looking for mellower terrain and there’s barely enough time for those mountains to transition to hills before you’re at the coast which is almost as thrilling as the peaks on the other end of the state. The 18 miles of coastline are known for cold surf, rocky beaches, and jagged islands popping up from the Atlantic.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step aboard the Cog Railway and climb to the Northeast’s highest summit, Mount Washington. The train travels the steepest railroad tracks in North America, passing through several climate zones before reaching the summit. With 93 state parks offering everything from surf breaks to mountain peaks, New Hampshire is a state built for adventure.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

For wildlife spotting opportunities away from the crowds head west to the littler-known Theodore Roosevelt National Park which sees just 749,000 annual visitors. Twenty-nine American bison were reintroduced here in 1956 with herd numbers today totaling several hundred between the park’s north and south units. For the best chance of seeing bison, make your way around the Scenic Loop Drive in the south unit but be sure to maintain a respectable distance from the massive creatures. Fortunately, bison prefer to graze the nutritious grasslands surrounding prairie dog communities, and thus, you may spot both species.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the park’s critters, there is an abundance of scenic views and impressive rock formations to enjoy. Visiting at sunrise or sunset is an ideal time to appreciate the multitude of colors emanating from bands of minerals in the rugged rock face.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston

There are few better places to be for the Fourth of July than Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution. This richly historic, seafront state capital come alive with celebrations. Packed with museums and galleries, Boston was once hailed the Athens of America. Bostonians are proud of their food culture with classics like clam chowder and lobster rolls.

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

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Everyone loves a two-for-one, especially when it comes to national parks. As Yosemite’s southern neighbors, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are often overlooked. Although Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s natural beauty rival its northerly neighbor, it only received 1.2 million visitors in 2018 compared to Yosemite’s four million. But as the famed naturalist John Muir once penned, “…southward of the famous Yosemite Valley, there is a grander valley of the same kind.” And we have to agree.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Walter Winchell

Flash Bucket List of Cool End-of-Summer Activities

What’s still left on your end-of-summer bucket list?

Memorial Day is but a faint memory. Independence Day came and went. Now, with Labor Day looming, you’re wondering where the heck summer went—exactly. But don’t stop yet. You can curl up in a blanket on the couch in January and February, promise—unless, you’re a snowbird basking in the sunshine and warm temperatures of a Sunbelt state.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to fret, it’s not too late for a last-hurrah to close the summer out right.

There is no shortage of must-see destinations throughout the U.S., and late summer is an opportunity to witness America’s beauty at its best.

But where to go? A flash bucket list of Great American Summer activities follow. So hop in the RV for one final road trip and head to the one nearest you, or get inspired to recreate some of this summer magic in a state park or local recreation area near your own fair city. Either way, you’ve got a few final weeks of heat and sun to make this summer one for the books. Don’t waste it.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This austere landscape is home to a surprisingly dense population of wildlife. Bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, wild horses, and bighorn sheep inhabit the park, as do numerous smaller mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And perhaps best of all is the shortage of human beings. This relatively isolated park is hardly ever crowded (753,880 visitors in 2016), so you can experience the gorgeous loneliness of the badlands much the way Roosevelt did more than a hundred years ago.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Adairsville, Georgia

Adairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to this Norman Rockwell kind of town is a must for anyone who loves history, antiquing, and good food.

Adairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adairsville, nestled in the Oothcalooga Valley, is listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 130 homes and businesses are designated as historic properties. Adairsville still has its 1847 frame depot and many historic homes and old business blocks. The depot displays over 100 years of history.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga lies in a valley in southeastern Tennessee between the Appalachian and the Cumberland mountains. Chattanooga sits on both banks of the Tennessee River at Moccasin Bend and is bordered by Signal Mountain on the north and Lookout Mountain to the south which shelters the city from major weather systems.

Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee’s fourth largest city with a population of 175,000, Chattanooga has a downtown elevation of 680 feet; Lookout Mountain is 2,388 feet in height. The city is a great family destination with lots of things to do and see.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks National Monument looks down into a majestic geologic amphitheater, a three-mile long cirque of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is known for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin. Take the scenic drive, wander among timeless bristlecone pines, ponder crystal-clear night skies, experience the richness of a subalpine forest.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects these sites, some of the most notable and best preserved in the U.S.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 4,000 archaeological sites have been preserved, including hundreds of homes and villages that date back to the 12th century.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

6 National Parks to Visit & Instagram This Summer

With summer in full swing, you might be planning an RV getaway. Here’s a suggestion: visit a national park—because the great outdoors is always a good idea.

Summertime is in full swing and that means barbecues, relaxation, and of course camping. What better way to experience the summer season than by enjoying the great outdoors in an RV.

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

National Park Service offers an extensive array of experiences across the country for young and old. In 2016, National Park Service locations topped over 330 million visitors. Looking specifically at the 59 National Parks, attendance is expected to be well over 60 million in 2017.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the advent of social media, these locations have offered awesome photo opportunities to share with friends and family. With all this in mind, we bring you the six national parks you should visit and Instagram this summer.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is world-famous for its vibrant red rock spires that shoot hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem pole-like formations are collected in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters that are easily accessible and provide breathtaking views.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most visitors experience the scenery by car, Bryce Canyon’s magical beauty is best seen on foot. With eight marked trails, most of which can be hiked in less than a day, there are plenty of areas to explore from within.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

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

Established in 1934 and featuring 522,427 acres of land, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great spot to camp. With over 11 million visitors annually, it is the most visited national park and for good reason, too. One hundred unique waterfalls and cascades, over 800 miles of hiking trails, and the designation of being the salamander capital of North America make this park a must-visit.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine you’re walking through a gorge 20 feet wide with natural rock walls as high as 1,000 feet. Underneath you lies the Virgin River. At Zion National Park, this isn’t an outdoor fantasy, it’s reality. The Narrows remains one of Zion’s peak attractions driving nearly four million visitors each year. Campers beware, most campgrounds are full by mid-morning and are full in peak months most every night. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a list featuring some of America’s greatest national parks and camping spots within, how could we not include the Grand Canyon. Clocking in at 18 miles wide, 277 river miles long, and a mile deep, its size is sure to overwhelm park-goers.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With regards to camping, it is split between the South and North Rims. The southern side is easier to access and by far the most popular, however, during the summer months its popularity causes the canyon to be reserved to capacity. Meanwhile, the North Rim requires more driving and because of higher elevation and heavier snowfall has a very short season.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone formations such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. Natural arches abound and come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff from the visitors center and winds along the arid terrain providing amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road passes the Park Avenue area, Courthouse Towers, the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rounding our list is Joshua Tree National Park. Two deserts converge in this stunning locale situated in Southern California. While there is no shortage of hiking trails, the best activity to take part in happens at night. As the sun fades and the cool desert air fills the atmosphere, dozens of stars, meteors and planets shine bright in the desert night sky. What better way to cap off a long day than to watch the Milky Way from one of several campsites.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

10 Family-Friendly Road Trip Destinations

Here are 10 of our favorite family-friendly destinations for summer travel

With the summer days already getting shorter, families across the country are packing up their RVs and heading outdoors to experience the country via a road trip. From the massive sequoias of California to the caverns of New Mexico to the charming streets of Charleston, South Carolina, the U.S. offers countless stops that can make a road trip unforgettable.

Here are 10 family-friendly road trip destinations worthy of travel this summer.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, a vast, isolated national park along the Texas-Mexico border, is home to mountains, deserts, canyons, and hundreds of bird species. Visitors can see dramatic canyons, historic sites, and wildlife in one of the less-visited national parks in the U.S. Its isolation makes it ideal for stargazing and visitors can hike through deserts and along rivers in over 150 miles of trails.

Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A must-see destination in the American heartland, the reservoir of Lake Powell lies on the Colorado River, mostly in Utah but with some of it stretching into Arizona. Two million people come here every year to bask in endless sunshine, warm water, and spectacular scenery and to marvel at the surrounding Mars-like terrain.

Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aside from being home to the world’s largest tree (by volume) and protecting vast areas of towering redwoods, a big part of Sequoia’s appeal is that it isn’t all that crowded. Take a stroll under the big trees in the Giant Forest, view wildlife in Crescent Meadows, or climb to the top of Moro Rock

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The horseshoe-shaped, russet rock hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park are a true sight to behold. This is one of the world’s highest concentrations of hoodoos and their colors alternate between shades of purple, red, orange, and white. One of the most rewarding ways to admire these geological wonders is to hike to Sunrise Point and its panoramic lookouts where you can witness the magic of the sunlight hitting the rocks.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Utah

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The red rock majesty of Utah is on triumphant display on State Route 12 winding between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks. The 124-mile strip has funky small towns and very few entry points, so it takes a map and determination to witness the steep sandstone canyons and bluffs of purple sage and to tackle the narrow cliff-hanging ridgeline road called The Hogback.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just two trails (and an elevator) exist for visitors to explore Carlsbad Caverns on their own. The Big Room Trail, the largest single chamber by volume in North America can be accessed via a 1.25-mile trail or a .6-mile shortcut. The relatively flat terrain weaves through a series of curious hanging stalactites and passes through park gems like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome. The park also offers a few ranger-guided cave tours and star walks.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s no secret that Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun on a family-friendly beach or explore the history of this Southern gem, a Charleston getaway is one you’ll never forget. Walk alongside Charleston harbor on the Battery and in White Point Gardens, visit the Holy City’s famed St. Philips graveyard, or experience what life was like in the Lowcountry hundreds of years ago at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

Drive four hours east of the Grand Canyon (and its 6,254,238 annual visitors) and explore the considerably quieter (just 825,660 visitors) Canyon de Chelly. As a bonus, park access is free and so are the ranger-led tours that introduce you to the canyon’s remarkable history and the indigenous tribes that have called it home for centuries.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy breathtaking vistas of the Blue Mountains from 75 overlooks along the 105-mile scenic Skyline Drive, fish in one of 70 mountain streams, or take your pick of over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Park highlights include Rapidan Camp, President Hoover’s summer White House, Hawksbill Mountain (the highest point in the park), and Dark Hollow Falls, a popular walk to a 70-foot waterfall.

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road.

Summer Is Halfway Over! Time to Hit up the Great Outdoors

Discover and explore these wide open spaces in the Great Outdoors

Cities often get the lion’s share of our travel-dollar love. It’s easy to see why—there are world-class attractions, amazing restaurants, booming breweries, surprising food trucks to visit.

Who can argue with spending your time riding a bike through a booming metropolis with a gelato in hand? Who can complain about booking trips to San Antonio, or Seattle, or Miami?

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

But cities aren’t the only gems this country has to offer. America—densely populated as it is—has huge swaths of open and wild spaces, otherwise known as the Great Outdoors.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just how much open space are we talking? Take this as an anecdotal example—Montana and Germany are roughly the same size, but Montana has just over one million people compared to Germany’s 82 million. Germany still has a large amount of wide open spaces. So, comparatively, Montana may as well be empty.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those wide open spaces come in many forms across America. There are alpine mountain highs, desert valley lows, dense forests, gator-filled swamps, giant lakes, and two coasts peppered with every kind of beach you can think of. There are lots of opportunities out there to unplug, turn off your smartphone, and take in a little of the nation’s nature.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help in your quest to explore America’s backcountry we’ve compiled a list of a few choice destinations. These are some cool trips where nature is front and center. These are places where you can find a little quiet amongst the stunning natural beauty of America’s backcountry. And you can discover and explore them all in an RV.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regional National Parks

There are 61 national parks to choose from across these great states. Hitting all of them in one summer vacation is nigh on impossible. However, hitting all the national parks in a region of the United States is more doable than you may realize.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Circle Tour includes Utah’s Big 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonland, and Capitol Reef), Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Monument Valley, and Grand Canyon National Park.

The East Coast Route takes you down the entire east coast of America and includes Acadia, Shenandoah, the Great Smoky Mountains, Congaree, Biscayne, the Everglades, and Dry Tortugas.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other possible national park routes include:

  • California Dreamin’ Route (all nine California national parks)
  • Traveling North to the Future (all eight Alaska national parks)
  • Pacific Northwest Route (four parks in Oregon and Washington)

Navajo Nation

Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why not go to whole other country within the United States? The Navajo Nation is an immense (27,000 square miles) corner of the country encompassing Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley, Bisti Badlands, Churchrock Pyramid, Rainbow Bridge, and Window Rock, just to name a few stops.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can easily self-guide yourself around the wonders of the Navajo Nation. However, with over 40 percent of the Navajo living in abject poverty, it’s important to inject your tourism dollars directly into the community by hiring local guides for touring, hiking, camping, fishing, and cultural activities. And don’t forget to eat fry bread. Every day.

The Roads Less Traveled

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are hundreds of byways across America that provide unparalleled opportunities to experience the cultural, historical, ecological, recreational, or scenic qualities of the area. These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Colonial Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway, though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a protected roadway within federal park lands. If a particular byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

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

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? Our favorites include Scenic Byway 12 (Utah), Cherohala Skyway (North Carolina and Tennessee), Creole Nature Trail (Louisiana), Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia), Amish Country (Ohio), Colonial Parkway (Virginia), and Red Rock (Arizona).

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

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.