Osoyoos: Canada’s Desert Wine Country

Osoyoos is located in the South Okanagan in the south-central portion of British Columbia just north of the Washington (US) border

The Sonoran Desert reaches its Northern terminus in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains. This produces a hot and sunny environment with very little precipitation. Osoyoos experiences 2,039 hours of sunshine each year and an average of 9.8 inches of rain/2.1 inches of snow annually. While the warmest in Canada, the temperature does still see a significant range. The average high in the warmest month of August is just over 79 degrees while the average low in the coldest month of December is just over 13 degrees.

Osoyoos and Lake Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name Osoyoos comes from the Sylix word soo-yoos, referring to the lake’s narrow gap. Indigenous people lived in the Okanagan region for thousands of years before the arrival of the first European fur traders in 1811. In 1821, the Hudson Bay Company took over operations, and a major trade settlement developed in the Okanagan Valley. As of 1858, the gold rush began transforming the economic incentives of the region. 

Osoyoos and Lake Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the early 20th century, the first commercial orchards (apples, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches) were established taking full advantage of the long growing season. In 1927, a major irrigation project is known as “The Ditch” helped disperse more water into the desert climate. By the 1960s, the optimal combination of natural and artificial conditions led to the first large-scale grape vineyards that currently support Osoyoos’s thriving wineries. 

Vineyard near Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Osoyoos area is one of the largest grape-growing regions of British Columbia with more than 15 estate wineries within a 15-minute drive of the town center.  Most of the wineries are VQA rated (Vintners Quality Alliance), meaning that they have passed the rigid quality standards set by the alliance of Okanagan vineyards and that the wines are made from 100 percent BC-grown grapes. The wines have won many prestigious awards for wines produced from the many grape varieties grown in the area.

Related article: South Okanagan: Beaches, Peaches, Wine, and More

Grape harvest season near Osoyoos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The numerous microclimates and soil variations make it possible to cultivate some 60 different varieties of grapes within a small area. You’ll find wineries producing an assortment of varietal wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Ice Wine.

Local in Osoyoos are Nk’ Mip Cellars, Adega on 45th, Moon Curser, Borderland Vineyards, Young & Wyse, and La Stella wineries.

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owned and operated by the Osoyoos Indian Band and located on 1,200 acres of band land, Nk’Mip Cellars is the first Aboriginal-owned and-operated winery in North America. The word Nk’Mip translates to “Bottomland” in English, and is located at the southern end of the Osoyoos reservation. Nestled in their vineyard overlooking the town of Osoyoos, the Cellars offers spectacular views of the lake and surrounding hills and mountains.

Related article: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Nk’Mip Cellars © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During a recent visit a selection of wines from their Winemaker’s Series and premium Qwam Qwmt (which translates to “achieving excellence”) reserve were available for tasting—2015 Pinot Blanc, 2014 Pinot Noir, 2014 Merlot, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon QQ, 2014 Syrah QQ, and 2014 Mer’r’iym QQ. Mer’r’iym is their word for “marriage” and the inspiration for a wine that represents a perfect union of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. 

Moon Cursor Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the east side of town just before ascending the steep switchbacks of Anarchist Mountain (Highway 3) is Moon Curser Vineyards. We knew—and previously visited—this winery under its original name, Twisted Tree, which had been the name of this winery since it first opened in 2004. In the dark of winter 2011, they made the bold move to change their identity to Moon Curser Vineyards—a name that captures many colorful stories of the Osoyoos area, as well as the renegade spirit of their winemaking.

Moon Curser Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos, the border town where Moon Curser Vineyards is located, has long been celebrated for the rich soil and brilliant sunshine. But during the gold rush, it was the dark of night that brought commotion to the area. Then, an unscrupulous procession of gold-smuggling miners returned stateside by the hundreds, if not by the thousands. All under the cover of night—trying to avoid customs agents at all cost. Often, the light of the moon would foil their plans, shedding light on their covert travels and activities. Need we say more about the name?

Moon Curser Vineyards © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And you don’t forget a Moon Curser bottle when you see one. The labels are whimsical.

Related article: 4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

While the name and packaging are memorable, the wine inside the bottle is what is most important. From the start they decided to get creative and try different varieties in their portfolio. The approximate 5,000-case production includes 13 different wines. 

Moon Curser Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As alternative varieties are becoming a trend all over the world, the vintners at Moon Curser are a few steps ahead of everyone else, fittingly, just as the moon cursers on their labels try to keep one step ahead of the law.

I enjoyed a selection of some serious and inventive wines—2015 Afraid of the Dark (a blend of whites from France’s Rhone Valley), 2014 Tempranillo, 2014 Dead of the Night, 2013 Contraband Syrah, and 2014 Border Vines (Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carménère).

Adega on 45th © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adega on 45th has a bell tower, set in a vineyard not far from Nk’Mip Winery overlooking the town of Osoyoos. The 6,000-square-foot winery has thick concrete walls and a naturally cooled cellar for 400 barrels buried against the hillside. The winery’s ambience reflects the Portuguese heritage of the owners.

The winery sits high on the vineyard’s west-facing slope. The tasting room windows offers a grand view over the town and the lake.

Odega on 45th © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Young & Wyse is owned by Stephen Wyse former winemaker at Burrowing Owl Winery and his partner Michelle Young. The vineyard is located on the East bench overlooking beautiful Osoyoos Lake. The plantings are on sloping terraces and consists primarily of sandy loam soil. The southwesterly exposure offers long days of sunlight hours. The cooling effect from the lake balances the heat from the day, which is optimal for grape and vine growth. Plantings include four acres primarily with Melbec, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Related article: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

Nk’mip RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Nk’mip RV Park and Campground; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

America’s Least-Visited States and Why You Should Go To Each

You’re likely missing out on some of the most beautiful places in the US

Even the most traveled RVers have inevitable gaps on their “where I’ve been” map. It’s a big country out there and clocking all 50 states is a fairly universal bucket list goal. Still, some of the less known states are passed over—and that is a shame. Now more than ever, we’re daydreaming about hitting the Interstate in search of wide-open spaces, desert expanses, serene beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and near-empty hiking trails.

After crunching the numbers I’ve identified 11 of the less-visited states, many of which were obvious, some of which were shocking. Digging deep to find out what makes each a destination in its own right: small-town charm, amazing food, fantastic beer, and sweeping landscapes.

Looking for a hidden gem? Then make a plan to visit these roads less traveled!

Snake River at Twin Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idaho

Annual visitors: 34.3 million

Why you should visit: For some ungodly reason, Idaho is forever associated with its primary agricultural product. And look, I love taters as much as the next person. But find yourself on the shores of Redfish Lake with the snow-capped peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains reflecting in clear waters and you won’t be thinking about your next meal. You’ll be thinking about how Idaho is darn near perfect and wondering where all the people are. 

Lava fields in Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s got all the jagged mountains, wild whitewater, and pristine lakes of places like Colorado or California but it doesn’t pack in the hordes of tourists. While everyone else is clogging up Jackson Hole, an easy jaunt over the Tetons and the Wyoming state line will drop you by two of the best small towns in the state, Driggs and Victor. Spots like Stanley and Coeur d’Alene are also cool resort towns with friendly people and spectacular scenery. And of course, there’s brewery-packed Boise that’s one of the most underrated places to live in the US.

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts

Annual visitors: 29.3 million

Why you should visit: There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston but it’s the boatloads of seaside towns that make shockingly under-touristy Massachusetts such a gem.

Hyannis harbor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amble around little Cape Ann fishing villages like Rockport where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh, fresh seafood. Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are the more well-known escapes with spectacular seal- and shark-watching opportunities along the National Seashore.

For a whirlwind tour, hop on a train from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay on the Cape Cod Central Railroad, an oceanside journey that ambles through cool little towns and cranberry bogs. The town of Salem is extra fun to visit around Halloween; history nerds should also visit Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village, two living museums from the colonial era.

Historic Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oregon

Annual visitors: 29.1 million

Why you should visit: Oregon’s presence on this list proves that many have yet to discover this Pacific Northwest dreamland and even those who know Portland likely have no clue to the scope of the state’s wonders. Oregon packs a massive diversity of ecosystems into its borders from a coast overflowing with natural beauty and shorelines to the dense forests blanketing the land.

Oregon Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, the Columbia River Gorge forms a border with Washington made of sheer cliffs and waterfalls. Mountains like Hood, Bachelor, and the Three Sisters cast shadows over green valleys, roaring rivers, and high-desert landscapes. You’ll find the continent’s deepest lake at Crater Lake National Park.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

Annual visitors: 28.7 million

Why you should visit: In Alabama, you can drink in two states at once at the Flora-Bama bar near Orange Beach or participate in its famous annual mullet toss (fish, not hair). If you’re not into throwing fish and/or drinking, you can explore 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, most notably, Gulf Shores, the prettiest place in the state and home to Gulf State Park. Truly, this is a state that at once embraces its stereotypes (“roll Tide!!”) and shatters them. 

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are landmark historical sites from the Civil Rights movement all across the state including the Civil Rights Institute and the famous 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham plus the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. There’s also baseball history—the oldest stadium in America is Rickwood Field in Birmingham. And pay homage to one of the greatest to play the game at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile (located at Hank Aaron Stadium).

Finally, the largest space museum in America is in Huntsville. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is home to the famous space camp.

Newport Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island

Annual visitors: 26.2 million

Why you should visit: Get some inspiration by taking the cliff walk through Newport’s historic mansions. Rhode Island boasts 400 miles of coastline (it’s not called the Ocean State for nothing) and some of the warmest water in New England.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re still hanging in Newport, Second Beach is your move for a day on the water. To round things out, you’ve got the Pawtucket Red Sox (or Pawsox)—a fun minor-league alternative to Fenway—way more breweries and distilleries than a state its size needs. Oh yeah, and Del’s Frozen Lemonade. Do NOT leave without trying a Del’s Frozen Lemonade.

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi

Annual visitors:  24.7 million

Why you should visit: This is the birthplace of American music. Start your sonic education in Tupelo (Elvis did) where you can walk up three different music trails—through cotton fields, churches, train depots, and nightclubs—to learn about the roots of blues and country music.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi is also home to three of the five driving trails on the Americana Music Triangle, a 1,500-mile highway route through five states with historical stops related to countless genres of music from the region including blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, R&B/soul, gospel, Southern gospel, Cajun/zydeco, and bluegrass.

There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches here without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And unlike other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis have casinos.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

Annual visitors: 22.6 million

Why you should visit: Teddy Roosevelt loved North Dakota so much that he bought a ranch here then made it a national park. Today, North Dakota has 63 national wildlife refuges and 13 state parks and offers visitors the chance to see not only pronghorns and buffalo but the world’s largest buffalo—Dakota Thunder—can be seen at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s not all rural land and Bull Moose. Fargo is one of America’s most underrated cities tucked into an overlooked state. Amid its highly walkable streets, you’ll find a food scene that goes beyond hot dish and into fine dining and international fare plus a vibrant brewing community. 

Sky Mountain Gulf Course, Hurricane, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Annual visitors: 20.7 million

Why you should visit: While it’s easy to make a case for Utah being America’s most stunning state, surprisingly it remains under-visited. Yet it’s been at the forefront of daydreams thanks to its otherworldly landscapes, unmatched stargazing, and relative isolation. Time to pack up the RV and see what the fuss is all about!

Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s open landscapes can be tackled in several ways whether it’s via a journey through the Mighty Five— Zion and Bryce among them—hiking its equally mind-blowing state parks or cruising a scenic stretch of road like the Hogsback (Scenic Byway 12).

For a more metropolitan experience, the cities are stereotype-smashers: Against the backdrop of its gorgeous namesake, Salt Lake City has emerged as a preeminent western destination placing it on the top tier of relocation wish lists. Park City, meanwhile, is so much more than Sundance: a world-class ski destination and postcard-perfect mountain town. Regardless of where you land, one thing remains constant: Wander in any direction and you’ll likely be greeted by an image that will sear itself into your memories.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Virginia

Annual visitors: 15.9 million

Why you should visit: They don’t call the Mountain State “almost heaven” because of the strip clubs though the state does boast the most per capita of any state in the Union. It’s because of stunning outdoor attractions like the 25-mile North Fork Mountain Trail—one of the few trails labeled as “epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association—where you can ride backcountry ridges whilst soaking up the views over Seneca Rocks.

Glad Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into water sports, brave the Gauley River, one of the five best whitewater rivers in the world and home to a 14-foot raftable waterfall. Or visit the newly-minted New River Gorge National Park. If you’re into land sports, catching a football game at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown (especially at night) is one of the most unique experiences in college football.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

Annual visitors: 13.5 million

Why you should visit: South Dakota is one of the country’s most beautiful states. It’s also one of its most misunderstood. But once you’re here, you’ll discover why all those Smash Mouth fans keep coming to Sturgis every summer.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a drive along the Needles Highway near Mount Rushmore National Memorial through fascinating rock formations or drive any stretch of the Badlands to see scenery like nowhere else in the world. Custer State Park is one of the few places in America where buffalo on the road can cause a traffic jam; the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place here when thousands thunder through the park as rangers round them up for medical checks and counts.

SoDak’s roadside attractions are also among the quirkiest in America. Take I-90 east from the Black Hills and you’ll pass ghost towns, a dinosaur sculpture park, the famous Wall Drug, and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. You’ll end up in Sioux Falls, one of those small cities that feels a hell of a lot bigger than it is, and a great place to spend a weekend.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont

Annual visitors: 13 million

Why you should visit: More or less everything you’ve heard about Vermont is true: This is a state that takes tremendous pride in its artisan everything, so much so that if you sit down for a meal at one of Burlington’s fantastic restaurants, you’ll likely discover everything from the garnish to the cheese to the chair you’re sitting in was made by some master craftsman in the same zip code. The craft beer scene is unparalleled, a true destination for beer nerds where hazy IPA pioneers The Alchemist holds court alongside legends like Hill Farmstead and the actual Von Trapp family who ensure the hills are alive with lagers. 

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a land of general stores, covered bridges, sugar shacks, ski towns, and vast wildernesses. There is no place where the leaf-peeping is as vivid. It’s exactly what you expect, yet somehow so much more.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

The Ultimate Coastal South Road Trip: From New Orleans to Savannah

Discover the sights, sounds, and tastes along this Coastal South road trip

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to embark on a great American road trip.

One such road trip links two of the South’s most historic and poetic cities: New Orleans and Savannah.

Cajun cuisine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the route, explore the Gulf Coast—balmy shores full of quirky beach towns, Cajun culinary magic, and breweries—as well as the white-sand beaches of the Eastern Seaboard between Florida and Georgia.

Pack your sunscreen and bathing suit, and throw on a blues and Southern rock playlist. This weeklong road trip through America’s warmest (both in climate and culture) region awaits.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your trip in New Orleans

The Big Easy. N’awlins. The Birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans is one of America’s most storied and with deep French, Spanish, and African roots culturally distinctive cities. As the saying goes, New Orleanians are perpetually either throwing a party or recovering from one. For those seeking revelry, look no further than the French Quarter or Frenchmen Street—the latter is also one of the best places in New Orleans for live music.

Like Las Vegas, New Orleans doesn’t have open-container laws. So snag yourself a daiquiri while you stroll and admire the city’s inimitable architecture, street music, and local characters.

Related article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Dine at one of New Orleans’ legendary restaurants—perhaps Commander’s Palace, Arnaud’s, or Galatoire’s.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis is about an hour and a half east of New Orleans.

As with Louisiana, the French colonized these shores in the late 17th century. I recommend taking Highway 90 from New Orleans. This route follows the coastline and is far more scenic than the slightly more expedient Interstate 10.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the revelry of New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, a quiet and breezy beach town is the ideal place to catch your breath.

For those interested in blues history visit 100 Men Hall. This hallowed music venue has hosted the likes of James Brown, Etta James, and Muddy Waters. The current owner, Rachel Dangermond continues to host musicians and uses the hall for events in support of coastal Mississippi’s African American community.

The gorgeous Pearl Hotel overlooks the ocean and sits within easy walking distance of the restaurants, beach bars, and ice cream parlors of Bay St. Louis. Right across from Pearl Hotel is The Blind Tiger, a beach bar serving up delicious “royal reds,” deep-water shrimp, a coastal Mississippi delicacy.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulfport, Mississippi

Driving east from Bay St. Louis, you’ll soon arrive in Gulfport.

Be sure to start the morning with a coffee and plate of biscuits at Fill-Up with Billups, an old-fashioned gas station converted into a diner.

Related article: The Underrated Coast

Boasting a dozen well-known casinos, Gulfport is a popular gaming destination. But if gambling isn’t your thing, Gulfport also boasts world-class charter fishing and is home to Chandeleur Island Brewery.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biloxi, Mississippi

About 30 minutes down the coast from Gulfport is Biloxi, the Playground of the South.

Long renowned for the abundant shrimp, oysters, and crabs of its warm waters Biloxi suffered tremendous destruction from Hurricane Katrina.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Biloxi is on the rise again with a slew of busy casinos, booming commercial and recreational fishing industries, and killer dining and drinking. If you’ve had your fill of gambling, take a shrimp boat tour with Capt. Mike at Biloxi Shrimping Trip. He takes passengers out into Biloxi Bay to learn about the world’s favorite crustacean.

Mississippi Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Just east of Biloxi Bay, this small town is a leafy artists’ colony that punches well above its weight for dining, coffee, and nightlife. It’s sprawling with live oaks and buildings bedecked with wrought-iron balconies and the old French influence is palpable.

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

Ocean Springs comes alive at night. To find a bustling patio bar and live music, just walk up Main Street after dark. Check out Maison de Lu for excellent French-inspired seafood with a Gulf twist. And don’t leave Ocean Springs without getting a cup of joe at Bright-Eyed Brew Co., a local roastery adored by both visitors and locals.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

Continuing east and crossing state lines, Mobile is about an hour from Ocean Springs.

Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

If you have time, keep to coastal Highway 90—it’s a much prettier drive than the inland Interstate 10 as noted previously.

Mobile Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As with New Orleans, Biloxi, and most older Gulf Coast settlements, the French founded Mobile in the late 17th century. Mobile also claims to be home to North America’s oldest Mardi Gras.

Beer aficionados should check out Braided River Brewing Co., a recently opened brewery that’s already garnering national awards.

Hank Aaron Childhood Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re a sports fan be sure to pay homage to one of the great ones at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located adjacent to Hank Aaron Stadium. Aaron was one of the best to ever play this game. Aaron played 23 seasons. He came to the plate almost 14,000 times. He hit .305 with 755 home runs and 6,856 total bases—more than 700 total bases beyond everyone else. The gap between Aaron and No. 2 on the list, Stan Musial, is more than 12 miles worth of bases.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Consistently ranked as one of the nation’s coolest small towns, Fairhope is an upscale beach town about an hour southeast of Mobile. With wooden piers stretching out over blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous architecture, Fairhope is a town that seduces visitors to stay permanently. What’s more, Fairhope boasts some of the South’s best restaurants. Check out Tamara’s Downtown for scrumptious Gulf Coast delicacies.

Fairhope is undeniably posh (golf carts are the preferred means of transportation here). However, it also has a funky side, evidenced by the ample coffee shops, breweries, and the fact that the town once had a flourishing nudist colony.

Tallahassee, Florida

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

Tallahassee is about three hours east of Fairhope. Home to nearly 35,000 college students, Florida’s capital is one of the country’s most notorious college towns. As you would expect with an overpopulation of 18-to-22-year-olds, Tallahassee brims with rowdy bars, late-night eateries, and youthful verve.

Amelia Island near Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Florida

Another 2½ hours of driving will take you from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Jax is the largest city in the U.S. in terms of geographical breadth. It’s also the hometown of Southern rock legends the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In Jacksonville, the characteristic form of the Florida beach—that is, powdery white sand against placid, turquoise water—is fully realized. Not to mention that Jacksonville’s beaches are far less crowded than those farther south. For fun in the sun, head to Neptune Beach near downtown Jacksonville.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Head north up the coast for about two hours to reach Savannah, the final stop on our jaunt through the coastal South. Savannah is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and boasts some of the most stunning examples of the South’s grandiose pre-Civil War architecture.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike Atlanta, a city Gen. Sherman burned to the ground during the Civil War, the Union Army spared Savannah its torches—some say because Sherman had a local mistress who convinced him that her city was too beautiful to destroy. Either way, posterity is grateful that Savannah remained intact as the Historic District—with its stately fountains, mansions, and lush public parks—is a national treasure.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

St. Marys, Georgia (just north of the Florida/Georgia state line) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

Whether your thing is American history, beautiful cities, fabulous cuisine, or gorgeous beaches, the coastal South makes for a fantastic road trip.

This route links the old and superlatively poetic cities of New Orleans and Savannah. It shows you the best of coastal Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, North Florida, and the southern reaches of the Eastern Seaboard.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

How to Travel with Ideal Weather

Planning a trip? You will always have two basic questions on your mind—where and when to go—and both of these are wrapped in the most important quirk of all: weather.

Traveling in an RV brings you closer to the outdoors, which, in turn, brings you closer to seasonal weather, both pleasant and unpleasant. Even though RVs come equipped with heating and cooling technology these systems are not typically as efficient as the systems you’d find in traditional homes.

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

For this reason, RV camping in both extreme heat and extreme cold can be rather uncomfortable. This is especially relevant if you are dry camping without access to electrical hookups.  However, if you time your RV travels correctly, you can avoid most of the uncomfortable weather. This will also allow you to experience beautiful places in their optimum seasons. Follow along for all the tips and tricks on how to travel with the best weather.

Enjoy La Connor, Washington in the summer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel north in the summer

Extreme temperatures on either end of the spectrum can be very uncomfortable. However, excessive heat can feel especially brutal in an RV. Even with air conditioners running when the temperature outside is more than 100 degrees the temperature inside will often have a hard time falling below 80 degrees. In addition, outdoor adventures are much less fun and tolerable in overly hot weather, and enjoying the outdoors is one of the ultimate perks of RV camping. For all of these reasons, traveling in the northern regions or higher elevations is ideal in the hot summer months.

Related: The Best Stops for a Summer Road Trip

Enjoy Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in the summer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many places in the US are challenging to visit via RV in the winter due to the snow and extreme cold. Yet, these same places typically boast reasonably warm temperatures in the summer. New England, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, and the Northern states (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota) are perfect locations for your warm yet not too hot summer travels. In these states, you will find mild temperatures and beautiful mountain ranges and lakes that are excellent for sunny, summer adventures. 

Hiking Catalina State Park in Arizona in the winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel south in the winter

The same states that have lovely summer weather typically endure brutally cold temperatures in the winter. Keeping an RV warm in temperatures below freezing is not easy. Instead of suffering through the cold, visit the southern states and the lower elevations in the winter. In doing so, you will experience warm, sunny weather in the winter perfect for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

Many of the places that are excessively hot in the summer are warm and comfortable in the winter.

Enjoy Corpus Christi, Texas in the winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Favorite locations include Arizona, Florida, Southern California, Texas, and many of the Southeastern states—Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia. Other favored locations include southern Nevada and New Mexico. While the summer temperatures in these regions may peak at 100+ degrees or even 115+ in the Southwest they typically stay at temperatures of 50-75 degrees in the winter months. This weather is perfect for RVing and enjoying time outside so be sure to plan your winter RV adventures for one of these beautiful locations.

Related: Top 10 State Parks to Visit This Winter

Enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit places with four seasons in the spring and fall

Many of the states that experience four distinct seasons are both hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Because of this, you may be wondering when to visit these locations. Ideally, saving these regions for the warming spring and cooling fall months is best. This will allow you to experience the best weather to be found and avoid the overly hot and overly cold months of the year.

Enjoy Vermont in the fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideal locations to visit in the spring and autumn months are northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and many of the states of the Midwest—Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. There is so much beauty to be seen in these places and encountering them in their optimum seasons is the best way to experience it. 

Related: America’s Fall Foliage: Leafing through America

Enjoy Shenandoah National Park in the fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do if you encounter extreme temperatures

Even if you time your travels perfectly there will still be times when you experience uncomfortable temperatures. Heat waves, cold spells, and intense storms can show up even in places where the weather is generally mild. If this happens there are numerous things you can do to help regulate your RV interior temperature and still make the most of your vacation.

Enjoy the Urbana (Virginia) Oyster Festival in the fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm weather tips

When the outside temperature outside is 85 degrees or more, there are a few simple tricks that can cool your RV even without running your air conditioner. First, open up your fans and power them on the highest setting. Next, open your windows to increase air flow while drawing your shades or curtains to block out the direct sun. Consider utilizing Reflectix on your windows to reflect the heat away from your RV. This should bring your interior temperature down by at least ten degrees.

If all else fails and it’s too hot outside to regulate your interior temperature, fire up your air conditioners.

Enjoy Palm Springs, California in the winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cold weather tips

When the temperature outside is 55 degrees or less, it can be quite chilly in your RV. Yet, without cranking your furnace, there are a few things you can try to stay warm. First, ensure that all windows and fans are closed tightly. Next, consider utilizing your Reflectix on the opposite side to reflect the heat into your RV. Open your shades to let the sun pour in.

In addition, you should consider purchasing an electric space heater. These small heaters can keep your RV interior warm even in the frigid cold. If all else fails, you can run your on-board furnace.

Enjoy Yuma, Arizona in the winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV adventures are fun in any season but for many folks they are even more fun when accompanied by warm, mild temperatures. Timing your travels to properly enjoy the best weather throughout the year can be a bit difficult but totally possible with a bit of planning. Just remember to head north in the summer and south in the winter and you should find yourself chasing seventy degrees all throughout the year.

Related: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Do you like to travel with the seasons? What are your favorite places to visit in both the warm and cold months of the year?

Worth Pondering…

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.

—Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher (4 BC-AD 65)

The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip

Plan a route from sea to shining sea—without breaking the bank

Road trips have always been part of America’s DNA and despite skyrocketing gas prices there’s still never been a better time to see just what those amber waves of grain are all about. For many remote work has left the door wide open for new methods (and longer timelines) for exploration.

Whether by motorhome, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, camper van, or whatever trusted stagecoach you’ve got sitting out in the driveway, pulling off a cross-country road trip is incredibly rewarding—but it does take planning. From trip planning to money-saving, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Rawhide Western Town in Chandler, Arizona along I-10 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning the route: north, south, or a little of both

Arguably the most important part of planning a cross-country road trip is to decide how to get from coast to coast. You’ll hear people talk about the “north” route, I-90 from Seattle to Boston, or the “south” route, I-10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. I don’t like having to choose so my road trip route incorporates a little bit of both. Also, consider the season; I don’t recommend either I-90 or I-80 during winter.

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

The most important thing is to design the road trip around what inspires you (more on this later). For me, that means the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Smoky Mountains, Charleston and Savannah, and the Southwest which dictated that we drive the northern route and then pivot straight south before turning east again and then zig-zagging a few more times and taking the southern route to the Southwest.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Write down the following numbers:

  • How many days do you have for your road trip?
  • Approximately how many miles do you intend to cover?

Start by making a list in Google Maps of all the places you want to see. You may be surprised at how naturally a route forms. You also may be surprised at how little time it takes to get from one place to the next, especially in the East.

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

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the most miles you’d be comfortable driving in one day? Start by considering how many hours you’d feel comfortable behind the wheel then convert that into miles.

How many days do you want to do zero driving? Consider days spent exploring towns or in national and state parks. Likely, you won’t want to drive every single day of your trip.

These numbers should give you some clarity on what your itinerary will look like.

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometimes following a pre-planned itinerary takes a lot of the guesswork out which many people prefer. Everyone’s tolerance for driving is different, too; you’ll need to gauge your threshold. Don’t plan to cross the country in six days if you can only handle four hours of driving at a time.

Amish Country in northwestern Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create your itinerary

Now, start plotting days out so you can see them. You can use whatever works best for you. There are also road trip planning apps out there.

Once you have a basic itinerary drafted, run through it and see how it feels. Is it too rushed? Are you trying to cover too many miles? Do you think you could squeeze more stops in?

Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make any tweaks you feel are necessary. Even though this will hopefully be a pretty solid plan my advice is to always think of it as a guide rather than something that needs to be followed 100 percent.

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you’re making alterations to your itinerary:

  • Does it feel balanced?
  • Do you have all your long drives at the beginning of the trip?
  • Will you feel exhausted when you reach your final destination or will you be ready to rock?
  • Do you have time in your schedule to be spontaneous?
  • What would happen if you don’t get home on the exact date that you planned?
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead for national parks

Part of the adventure of a cross-country road trip is leaving room for improvisation. We don’t book RV parks and campgrounds until a day or two before our planned arrival which is great because we can be on our timetable. But this can become an issue around the national parks where campgrounds can often be booked months in advance.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As badly as you want to see Zion and Bryce Canyon, well… so does everyone else in America. It’s vitally important to plan and know each park’s entry restrictions. Consider springing for the $80 America the Beautiful National Park pass which provides access to all National Park Service sites as many times as you want in 12 months. In short, if you plan to go to more than three National Parks in one year, this is a good investment. If you plan to spend considerable time in one state or a region, look into those state or local passes too.

Related article: Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Design the road trip around what inspires you

Don’t miss out on great parks like Arches because you forgot to get reservations. If summer’s come to an end, you may get lucky—many parks, like Yosemite, do away with the reservation system after September 30. On the flip side, other parks like Glacier National Park or the Grand Canyon North Rim close their scenic drives in the colder months when snow is expected. It pays to do your research.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beat the crowds by going in the off-season—fall is an especially great time to visit—or opt for less-visited national parks that everyone seems to forget about. Get creative: America is full of gorgeous state parks, national forestsnational monumentshistoric parks, roadside attractions, and much more.

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

Set a road trip budget

Unless you’ve got a bottomless bank account (wouldn’t that be nice?!) you’ll probably want to set some sort of road trip budget. Now, this will vary from person to person. For some, it might be more or less a target to aim for but you’ve got flexibility. And for others, it’s a strict number that you’ll need to be very mindful of the entire trip. Whichever sounds like you, setting a budget is important. 

Truth BBQ in Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you can, skip traveling to popular places over holiday weekends and possibly the week before and after as prices will be inflated (plus, it’ll be extra crowded).

Road trip costs to consider include:

  • Fuel: This category is pretty straightforward
  • Accommodation: RV parks and campgrounds
  • Food: Restaurants AND groceries; also, the cost of snacks, coffee, alcohol, ice cream… ALL the good stuff
  • Entertainment: Fun things you plan to do along the way—hiking permits, entry fees, tours, rental equipment
  • Miscellaneous: The little expenses that don’t fit elsewhere—like propane, parking fees, tolls, medicine, paying for Wi-Fi, toiletries, souvenirs, gifts
  • Emergencies: We all hope to avoid unforeseen circumstances but, they do happen. This might include RV repairs, medical expenses, etc.
La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t get gouged on fuel prices. I secretly get excited when we save money on diesel fuel. One great app to save money on gas is Gas Buddy. Simply input your location and Gas Buddy shows you the cheapest gas around you. This app alone can save you hundreds of dollars when traveling across the US. Independent truck stops often offer diesel fuel at 50 to 60 cents per gallon cheaper than the majors like Pilot/Flying J and Loves.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

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

Also, driving the speed limit will help you stretch your fuel—not to mention, it’s kind of the law. Speeding can lower your fuel economy by as much as 30 percent. When you get up to places like Montana where the speed limit is 80 mph you’ll see how quickly your tank drains.

Turning off toll roads is another money saver. It never adds that much extra time and you can score substantial savings. There are some cities where tolls are unavoidable but in others, these are only slightly faster and the tolls can add up quickly. Driving from New York to Washington, DC, for example, can cost as much as $35 in tolls—each way. In cities that are infamous for their tolls, like Chicago, do a little pre-planning so you find the best route for your trip and don’t get stuck paying unnecessary fees for tolls.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have meals “on deck”. You can make some epic meals on the road but not every meal has to be fancy or overly planned out. Have some meals on hand that are just that—super simple to make.

We always have several “reserve meals” that don’t require much preparation for travel day.

Wild Turkey Distillery in Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dining out can be one of the biggest money sucks. It may seem like sacrilege to not be seeking out the best thing to eat in each town along your route but whittling your list down to the absolute can’t-miss spots will be lighter on your wallet. Texas BBQ joints are pretty high on my must-do list.

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. If there’s a restaurant you just have to try, plan to go there for lunch instead of dinner. Restaurants often have items that are similar to their dinner menu with smaller portions sizes and smaller price tags. This is a great way to try a specific restaurant while still sticking to your budget.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find free things to do

No matter where your road trip may take you there should be a ton of free (or inexpensive) activities to do. Simply Google “free things to do in (enter city name here)” and you should find enough to get you started.

Alternatively, you could replace “free” with “cheap” for some more options.

Galt Farmers Market in Central Caliroenia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free activities that to seek out include:

  • Hiking and walking trails
  • Farmers markets
  • Local parks
  • Beaches
  • Visitor centers
The Okefenokee in southern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hit the road…

Make sure everything on the RV and toad/tow vehicle is in good working order. This means checking the tire pressure, lights, oil, transmission fluid, and all the features before heading out each day. Don’t forget preventative maintenance.

Related article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

World’s Largest Roadrunner, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be prepared for things you didn’t prepare for

Even with the most detailed and extensive planning, things happen. But being open and flexible to mishaps is how to not let them ruin your day. If and when something goes wrong, remember to not panic. Trust that you’ve prepared yourself as best as possible and you’ll get back on track in no time.

Inconveniences are also exacerbated by exhaustion, so remember to take care of yourself on the road. Eat plenty of healthy food, drink water, and get a good night’s sleep before a long driving day. Leave the windows open for airflow, especially if you’re feeling sleepy. If you need to take a power nap, find a well-lit, safe area. This should not be a chore. Driving at your best is going to make the trip infinitely better.

Other than that, fire up your best road trip playlist, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

10 Underrated National Parks for Avoiding the Crowds

A guide to 10 national parks without the crowds

One thing is for sure as summer gets into full swing: some of the most popular national parks are going to be crowded. But if you intend to visit a national park this summer to get away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, don’t worry. Some of the least visited national parks in the country are also some of the most fun and there are still plenty of unique places to get away from the summer crowds.

I love the Great Smoky Mountains and Zion and no matter how many times I visit, the Grand Canyon will never cease to take my breath away. But when the swarms of tourists around Yellowstone’s Old Faithful start to make a day at the park look more like a rock concert I know it’s time to look America’s most popular parks in the eyes and say, “It’s not you, it’s us.”

National forests and state parks certainly offer alternatives to the hustle and bustle of major attractions, but there is also a segment of the 63 crown jewels that, stacked up against the more Instagram trend-inspired visits, seldom get their due.

Say goodbye to claustrophobic crowds and hello to getting remote, in a national park where your woes have less to do with slow-moving tour buses and more to do with the possibility of dormant volcanoes becoming…not dormant. Of America’s 63 national parks, these 10 deserve a spot at the top of your anti-social bucket list, especially if you’re looking to emphasize the “wild” part of your next wilderness adventure.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

California is filled with some of the most iconic—and crowded—national parks in the nation including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree. One park that miraculously flies under the radar though is Lassen Volcanic National Park, the least visited in the state with around 500,000 annual visitors (for reference, Yosemite sees about nine times that amount).

Nestled in central Northern California, this sleeper hit has a lot of elements similar to Yellowstone: your bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and freezing royal-blue lakes. Another thing the two share? The potential for a volcanic eruption at any moment! Lassen Peak is an active volcano, though its most recent eruptions took place back in 1917, so there’s (probably) nothing to fear as you trek up the mountain and drink in the views of the Cascade Range. If you’d rather keep things closer to sea level, try paddling on pristine and peaceful Manzanita Lake or exploring the Bumpass Hell area, a hydrothermal hot spot filled with billowing basins and kaleidoscopic springs.

Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

In the national park Venn diagram between Everglades and Redwood, Congaree National Park is the overlap. This tiny 26,000-acre park smack dab in the center of South Carolina has the murky look and feel of Florida’s Everglades, complete with unnervingly dark water, along with some of the tallest trees east of the Mississippi. The result is a singularly unique park woven with meandering creeks and the namesake Congaree River which provides a killer backdrop for paddling.

Though it may look like a big ol’ swamp, it’s a massive floodplain; the river routinely floods, carrying vital nutrients down into the roots of skyscraping giants like loblolly pines, and laurel oaks, and swamp tupelos. This being flat-as-a-flapjack South Carolina, the trails are all easy (albeit occasionally muddy). An absolute must is the mud-free elevated Boardwalk Loop Trail which winds through high-canopy forests so dense it gives the park an eerie, Blair Witch Project kind of vibe. But don’t worry—the only wildlife you’re likely to see are owls, armadillos, and otters.

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Talk about the remote. In far West Texas, Big Bend National Park hugs the Rio Grande River with Mexico just on the other bank (the park is named for… wait for it… a gigantic bend in the river). Even though it offers some of the most awe-inspiring backpacking in the US, fewer folks visit Big Bend each year than watch the Longhorns play in Texas Memorial Stadium for two or three Saturdays.

If you’re going, traverse the high country of the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range completely contained within the borders of a national park, or go lower to the trails on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Or just spend the day kayaking to your heart’s content. Once night falls, you’ll witness one of the greatest celestial panoramas you’ll likely ever see as Big Bend’s far-flung location gives it the darkest measured skies in the continental US.

Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Nothing is petrifying about Petrified Forest National Park nor is there anything forested about it. Hidden away in northeastern Arizona along a dusty stretch of Route 66 that looks like something from Cars, this mysterious 221,390-acre park has a lot more to it than meets the eye—except for people since the park gets less than one-fifth the visitors the Grand Canyon sees each year.

Unlike any forest you’ve been to, Petrified Forest gets its name from the copious boulder-sized petrified logs strewn across the arid desert landscape. Some 200 million years ago, mighty trees stood here in what was once a tropical forest before being washed away by ancient rivers, buried under sediment, and slowly crystallized by volcanic ash and silica.

Today, long gone are the rivers and leaves, replaced by petrified wood composed almost entirely of solid quartz and bedazzled by minerals like iron, carbon, and manganese, which give the logs shimmering tints of purple and green. Hiking trails here are short, but they pack a wallop of wow as you get up close and personal with these prehistoric gems.

Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Located near the charming desert town of Moab in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands has a lot in common with that other canyon park. For instance, both colossal chasms were carved by the Colorado River, both are high desert meccas of red-hued earth and both boast endless vistas of a landscape that looks all too otherworldly to exist on this planet. We suggest recruiting a buddy or two, hopping in a 4×4, and driving down White Rim Road, a 100-mile trip around and below the mesa top. You’ll spend hours taking in tremendous Mars-like desert panoramas while the crowds over at nearby Arches National Park are stuck in traffic.

To get even more secluded, visit in the wintertime when the vast landscape morphs into a wonderland of snow-swept mesa tops dotted with hoof prints from mule deer. Here, the four primary sections—Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and Horseshoe Canyon—are ripe for exploration. And at night, turn your gaze upward: Canyonlands is home to some of the darkest skies in the country.

Get more tips for visiting Canyonlands National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

You might not even know it’s there: in the vastly misunderstood state of North Dakota, usually thought of as just flat, rolling grasslands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park appears as if out of nowhere: where endless grass once stretched to the horizon, craggy, tree-dotted canyons flank the road. Petrified forests and river washes spread out between them and mountains somehow appear like magic. The rangers still say “you betcha,” though. Some things about North Dakota are correctly understood.

This is where the Badlands start cutting into the landscape, carving sharp rock faces and hoodoos into the countryside, where the night sky alternates between panoramic star show and explosive thunderstorms, and where packs of buffalo and wild horses roam with abandon among its river valleys and painted hills. And there’s history: the only National Park named after a single person, it was a source of inspiration for our bespectacled 26th President, heavily influencing his conservation policies. You can still visit his Elkhorn Ranch–the foundation stones of the cabin, anyway–and perhaps be inspired yourself.

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

While it may be cliché to say the Sonoran Desert looks like the background of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, it’s certainly not untrue: hiking, biking, and driving through the forest of nearly 2 million lanky, 40-foot-tall cacti that make up Saguaro National Park is almost certain to take you back to those Saturday mornings eating Froot Loops in front of the TV. Long overshadowed by the Grand Canyon, Saguaro’s namesake giants—found only in southern Arizona and northern Mexico—sit just outside Tucson, making this one of the easiest-to-access national parks in the entire system.

Yet in 2021, it received just over a million visitors. (Compare that to Yellowstone’s 5 million.) But its relative obscurity is also its greatest strength: Here, you can still feel like you’re lost in nature without delving into the wilds of some remote backcountry. Hike the 7.9-mile Wasson Peak loop for sweeping vistas or trek amongst the saguaros on the Garwood Trail.

Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

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

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Designated in December 2020 as the United State’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park in southern West Virginia is home to more than 65,000 acres of lush Appalachian mountains and forest, as well as various superlatives: It’s best recognized by its dizzyingly tall bridge—the third-highest in the US—and its 53 miles of the New River, which despite its name is believed to be one of the oldest rivers on the planet.

Although the misty mountains may look soothing, this is not a place for the faint of heart: In New River Gorge, rock climbers can scale to extreme heights, and river rafters can careen through Class IV and Class V rapids. Oh, and also there are ghosts–those who perished in the gunfights, cave-ins, and explosions during the days when the area was the frontier of coal mining. Even fearless ghost hunters might find themselves spooked by the various ghost towns tucked in throughout the area.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

No offense to Batman, but the Dark Knight’s luxurious bat cave can’t hold a candle—or a flickering, old-fashioned lantern—to the tunnels of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Hidden away in the Guadalupe Mountains of southern New Mexico, the park’s immense underground labyrinth of cavities was created hundreds of millions of years ago.

The caverns hide dozens of subterranean splendors, including stalactites, stalagmites, and a population of 700,000+ Brazilian free-tailed bats that migrate upward nightly in a quiet fluttering tornado. Plus underground treasures like the aptly-named Big Room, the largest cave chamber in North America, reachable only via a hike that’ll take you as deep underground as the Empire State Building takes people into the sky.

Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley. The park covers more than 26,000 acres and hosted 230,000 visitors in 2017. By comparison, its neighbor Yosemite National Park welcomed more than four million visitors.

The park is split into east and west districts between which there are no driving roads connecting the entrances on either side. In the west district, there are rare and unusual talus caves—caves made up of fallen rock sandwiched in slot canyons. On the east side, you will find the most interesting views of the formations along with broader views of the entire park landscape, the main park visitor center, and an established camping area. Both sides are beloved by technical climbers, day hikers, cave-goers, and bird watchers eager to catch a glimpse of the endangered California condor.

Get more tips for visiting Pinnacle National Park

Worth Pondering…

We use the word wilderness, but perhaps we mean wildness. Isn’t that why I’ve come here? In wilderness I seek the wildness in myself and in so doing come on the wildness everywhere around me. Because, after all, being part of nature I’m cut from the same cloth.

—Gretel Ehrlich in Waterfall

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in August 2022

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

Learning never exhausts the mind.

—Leonardo da Vinci

Italian painter and polymath Leonardo da Vinci was a luminary of the Renaissance era—he not only painted such famed works as the “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper, ” but was also an architect, inventor, and military engineer. In his lifetime, he sketched concepts resembling the modern-day bicycle and a flying machine and drew some of the first anatomical charts on human record. His words and life’s work remind us that broadening our horizons is healthy: Exploring new fields and skills will only create a richer life.

This August, I’ll not lament the fleeting days of summer. No, I will embrace it: There is still much to see and do—and places to travel in an RV. August is a time for lazy exploration and taking advantage of the last drops of the season while recharging for the months ahead. There are routes to be taken, mountains to climb, seafood to be eaten, and lakes to discover. Get out there and make the most of it.

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

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climb a Mountain 

Mount Lemmon, an oasis in the middle of the desert, is 20 degrees cooler than Tucson on average. Driving up the mountain, the plants slowly change from cactus and shrubs to oak and ponderosa pines. The area offers hiking, camping, and fishing. While you are up there, consider stopping by the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for cookies, pizza, chili, and sandwiches. While you’re at 9,000 feet, check out the Arizona stars at the Mount Lemmon Sky center.

Guadalupe River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tube down the Guadalupe River

Tubing down Guadalupe River is about as Texan as it gets, and this state park welcomes you with four miles of river frontage. Just one hour from San Antonio and two hours from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is also one of the more popular camping destinations in the state, particularly during the summertime when swimming in its cool waters is extra appealing for families and kids. When you’re not tubing, paddling, or taking a dip, embark on its hiking and biking trails. 

Related: The Best Stops for a Summer Road Trip

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admire Breathtaking Red Rock in Sedona

Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous-types will enjoy the various trails in Red Rock State Park and the renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

Deep sea red shrimp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

70th Annual Delcambre Shrimp Festival

The Town of Delcambre, Louisiana, located about 20 miles southwest of Lafayette is home to one of the area’s most productive shrimp fleets. The town devotes an entire weekend to honoring this economic lifeblood.

The Delcambre Shrimp Festival (70th annual; August 17-21, 2022) is home to one of the best 5-day festivals in South Louisiana. The festival has gained its popularity by providing a variety of delicious dishes and top-notch entertainment including National Recording Artists. Enjoy signature shrimp dishes like boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp sauce piquante, shrimp salad, and many more. Every shrimp dish consumed at the festival is prepared by volunteer members of the festival association. If you’re not in the mood for shrimp, the festival also offers a variety of other “festival” foods, cold beer, cold drinks, and water. Souvenirs, t-shirts, hats, posters, etc…

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit all seven of Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia. The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess an exceptional natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors annually.

Related: Summer 2022: 18 Best Things to Do in America

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a Taste Bud Tour at Blue Bell Creameries

Learn what all fuss is about at one of the most iconic creameries in America. Can’t decide which flavor is for you? Try them all because, hey, it’s only $1 a scoop! Since 1907, Blue Bell Ice Cream has won a special place in the heart of Texans. Many would say it’s the best ice cream in the US. For anyone caring to dispute that claim, you can’t know until you try it for yourself and there is no better place to do that than straight at the source. See how the scrumptious stuff is made and learn about the history of the iconic brand before treating yourself to a sample at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. At just $1 a scoop, it’s one of the best things to do in the US to beat the heat this summer! 

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk your Way to 17 Historic Sites

The Freedom Trail is a red (mostly brick) path through downtown Boston that leads to 17 significant historic sites. It is a 2.5-mile walk from Boston Common to USS Constitution in Charlestown. Simple ground markers explaining events, graveyards, notable churches, other buildings, and a historic naval frigate are stops along the way.

Most sites are free; Old South Meeting House, Old State House, and Paul Revere House have small admission fees; still others suggest donations. The Freedom Trail is a unit of Boston National Historical Park and is overseen by The Freedom Trail Foundation and the City of Boston’s Freedom Trail Commission.

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail was originally conceived by local journalist William Schofield who since 1951 had promoted the idea of a pedestrian trail to link together important local landmarks. Mayor John Hynes put Schofield’s idea into action. By 1953, 40,000 people annually were enjoying the sites and history on the Freedom Trail.

In 1974, Boston National Historical Park was established. The National Park Service opened a Visitor Center on State Street where they give free maps of the Freedom Trail and other historic sites as well as sell books about Boston and US history. Today, people walk on the red path of the Freedom Trail to learn about important events that led to independence from Great Britain.

USS Constitution © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History nerd that I am, I can’t get over how much has happened in such a small area. I love that you can take your time walking it. Traveling on the Freedom Trail shows you how small historical Boston was. The trail is free, and clearly marked and you can walk at your own pace. Be sure to wear your comfy shoes as you’re in for an awesome hike.

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NH’s Largest Lake

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire located in the Lakes Region. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.

Related: Best States for a Summer Road Trip

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size, and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake. Outflow is regulated by the Lakeport Dam in Lakeport, New Hampshire, on the Winnipesaukee River.

Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grandest of Newport’s Summer “Cottages”

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.  Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the Richest Fossil Beds in the World

People are drawn to the rugged beauty of the Badlands National Park. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed here.

The park’s 244,000 acres protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today. Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Badlands were formed by the geologic forces of deposition and erosion. Deposition of sediments began 69 million years ago when an ancient sea stretched across what is now the Great Plains. After the sea retreated, successive land environments including rivers and flood plains continued to deposit sediments. Although the major period of deposition ended 28 million years ago significant erosion of the Badlands did not begin until a mere half a million years ago. Erosion continues to carve the Badlands buttes today. The rocks and fossils preserve evidence of ancient ecosystems and give scientists clues about how early mammal species lived.

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Administered in two units, Sage Creek and Conata Basin, the area is open for backpacking and exploration. The Badlands was the filming location for both Dances with Wolves and Armageddon

Worth Pondering…

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

—Walter Winchell

4 Wild Dakotas Destinations to Explore this Summer

See what great places are waiting for you on your Dakota road trip

Early experiences in the Dakotas provided valuable inspiration for the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. That inspiration drove his desire to form the National Park Service and you can easily imagine why he took up the cause at several national parks in the Dakotas. 

Three parks are within two hours of each other in South Dakota. The fourth—Theodore Roosevelt National Park—is roughly five hours away in North Dakota. So you can reasonably hit all four on your next RV trip through the Dakotas. 

Here’s your guide to these four parks in the Dakotas, three national parks and one state park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The park named after the 26th President is a great location to start or end your national park road trip in the Dakotas. Because it’s a little separated from the others, hit it on your way to South Dakota or on your way back.

The park is broken into northern and southern units. The southern unit is much more popular and easily accessed off Interstate 94 in the town of Medora. The northern unit is a good option for boondockers and those seeking a more remote experience as it’s about an hour north and closer to Watford City. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A healthy grazing population of bison— the largest land mammal in North America—is a major attraction at Teddy’s park. They tend to graze in roadside meadows and occasionally halt traffic as they cross. 

The park is also home to feral horses, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, white-tail and mule deer, and more than 186 types of birds. Whether you just enjoy the 36 Mile Scenic Drive or come for the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival (September 16-18, 2022), this park offers plenty to do and see. 

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

If you somehow miss the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll get another chance to spot one in the Badlands. Along with bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn can regularly be spotted from the park’s many roadside overlooks. 

The park’s multi-colored landscape is especially attractive to photographers at sunrise and sunset. But there are many pull-outs along the main park road for you to capture the landscape from a unique perspective. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to visit the Badlands are spring and fall. Summer temperatures in the park can be sweltering and winter weather can be quite cold on the Dakota plains. There’s plenty of RV camping in the park but there’s also a large boondocking area for free RV and tent camping just outside the north entrance station. 

Be sure to check out the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Fossil Preparation Lab. The Badlands has been an epicenter for fossil discovery for decades and there’s a lot to learn about the area’s prehistoric inhabitants from scientists still conducting research at the lab.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Your Dakotas national park trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing Mount Rushmore in person. While the rest of the parks are a testament to nature’s creation, Mount Rushmore offers an ode to human engineering and persistence. 

If it’s your first visit, you can quiz yourself on facts surrounding the four presidents enshrined on the hillside before you step into the information center. Enjoy the short hiking trail from the visitor center along the base of the monument to see the carvings from multiple angles. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you do go inside, there’s a lot to learn about how this miracle of human engineering and construction came to be. From the many hurdles that had to be overcome to the techniques used to create the memorial, the informational exhibits are truly fascinating. 

If you want to pick the brain of a park ranger there are five unique guided tours to choose from. All of these guided programs are free of charge and last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. You can also rent a multimedia device to learn the history of Mount Rushmore on a self-guided tour.

Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.

The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorns, bighorn sheep, elk, wild burros, wild turkeys, coyotes, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along this road.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park offers nine campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.

Get more tips for visiting Custer State Park

Planning a national and state park RV road trip takes a lot of preparation. But if you target these four parks, you can check four amazing parks off your bucket list without a ton of driving in between.

Worth Pondering…

It was here that the romance of my life began.

—Theodore Roosevelt

America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Summer Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on a summer road trip adventure

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

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

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most scenic and culturally significant byways in America for your summer road trip adventure.

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 54 miles

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Virgin River runs alongside the Byway and offers opportunities for recreation as well as important riparian habitat for wildlife. Hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and river tubing provide recreation options for every ability and interest. Highway 9 is the major road providing access to Zion National Park. It winds past the park visitor center and museum, and many famous Zion landmarks. It provides access to Zion Canyon (accessible by shuttle only during the tourist season) and then goes through the park’s mile-long tunnel. It cuts through the park’s Checkerboard Mesa area and then ends at Highway 89 at Mt Carmel Junction.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Dakota

Length: 70 miles

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This byway winds around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations. Forming a figure-eight route, the byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Related Article: Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sky Island Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sky Island Parkway National Scenic Byway (Catalina Highway)

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural

Location: Arizona

Length: 27.2 miles

Sky Island Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The journey starts among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert and climbs to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Spectacular views and recreational opportunities abound -from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

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

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: New Hampshire

Length: 100 miles

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway (Mount Washington Cog Railway) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains have long been known for natural splendor, cultural richness, historical charm, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. The White Mountains Trail encompasses all these aspects throughout its 100-mile route. The Trail is a loop tour that winds through sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and past many of the region’s most popular attractions. Views abound of villages and unspoiled National Forest. Stops include views of Mount Washington and the grand Mount Washington Hotel, mountain cascades, wildlife, and the Appalachian Trail.

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Location: Kentucky

Length: 15.5 miles

Old Frankfort Pike Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Frankfort Pike National Scenic Byway extends 15 miles through a rural landscape that embodies the Bluegrass unlike any other. Here, internationally recognized Thoroughbred horse farms, diversified farms, country stores, railroad towns, and scenic landscapes have evolved over the past 250-plus years. Along the Byway are opportunities for a horse farm tour or a short side trip to neighboring attractions like Keeneland Race Track National Historic Landmark, Weisenberger Mill, and the historic railroad town of Midway.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Hovenweep National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Archeological

Location: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah

Length: 480 miles

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Mesa Verde National Park) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway provides a unique, well-preserved view of the history, memories, and traditions of the native peoples who lived in the American Southwest as hunters and gatherers thousands of years ago. The region and the scenic byway protect sacred archaeological remains and cultural and historic sites and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the landscapes while experiencing ancient native cultures.

Related Article: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Cherokee Foorhills Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Carolina

Length: 112 miles

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway (Michael Gaffney Cabin) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best ways to see the Upcountry is to hit the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC-11). This will take you from the Georgia/South Carolina border at Lake Hartwell through the rolling hills of Piedmont all the way to historic Gaffney. A replica of the city’s founder homestead, The Michael Gaffney Cabin, is located in the heart of downtown.

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Panguitch Lake)© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Cedar Breaks National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: The Guide to Driving the Back Roads

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural, Historic

Location: Virginia

Length: 23 miles

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Colonial Parkway is a twenty-three-mile scenic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown. It connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Several million travelers a year use this route to enjoy the natural and cultural beauty of Virginia. The Parkway serves as a thoroughfare unifying culturally distinct sites crossing several pristine natural environments while still maintaining the National Park Service’s prime directive to conserve the scenery and provide enjoyment of the same.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads