The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

Hiking for beginners can be intimidating but there’s really not much to it. You don’t need any special skills to hike; you just have to be able to walk and know where you are. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature, get a good workout in, and recharge your batteries. This guide will give you some essential hiking for beginners’ tips to make your hike safe and fun.

Hiking is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the outdoors. Transported by your own two feet and carrying only what you need for the day on your back you can discover the beauty of nature at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. And, with a little planning and preparation, it’s an activity that almost anyone can do.

Hiking, a timeless and invigorating outdoor activity has been a favorite pastime for individuals seeking a harmonious blend of exercise, nature, and adventure. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or a novice to the world of outdoor activities, hiking provides an excellent opportunity to reconnect with nature, improve physical well-being, and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

In this article, I’ll delve into the essence of hiking, highlighting its benefits and why it is an ideal activity for beginners. Moreover, I’ll underscore the inclusivity of hiking, catering to individuals of various fitness levels.

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

What is hiking and its benefits

Hiking is a form of outdoor recreation that involves walking or trekking through natural landscapes, often along trails or footpaths. Unlike more structured exercises, hiking allows participants to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature offering a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The benefits of hiking extend beyond the physical realm encompassing mental and emotional well-being.

Physical fitness

One of the primary advantages of hiking is the positive impact it has on physical health. As a weight-bearing exercise, hiking helps improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles, and enhance overall endurance. The varied terrain encountered during hikes engages different muscle groups providing a comprehensive workout for the body.

Mental well-being

The therapeutic effect of nature is well-documented and hiking serves as a conduit to experience it firsthand. The serene landscapes, fresh air, and the rhythmic act of walking contribute to reduced stress levels, improved mood, and enhanced mental clarity. Hiking provides a valuable opportunity to unplug from technology and connect with the present moment.

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

Social interaction

While hiking can be a solo endeavor, it also presents an excellent opportunity for social interaction. Group hikes allow individuals to share the experience with friends or meet like-minded individuals fostering a sense of community and camaraderie. Conversations flow more freely in the relaxed setting of nature strengthening social bonds.

Why hiking is ideal for beginners

Hiking’s appeal lies in its simplicity and adaptability making it an excellent choice for individuals new to outdoor activities. Here are several reasons why hiking is an ideal starting point.

Low entry barrier

Unlike some sports or fitness routines that require specialized equipment or skills, hiking has a remarkably low entry barrier. A comfortable pair of walking shoes, appropriate clothing, and a water bottle are sufficient for a beginner’s hike. This simplicity encourages more people to try hiking without the need for significant initial investment.

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

Flexible intensity

Hiking offers a wide range of intensity levels accommodating individuals with diverse fitness backgrounds. Beginners can choose trails with gentle inclines and shorter distances gradually progressing to more challenging routes as their fitness improves. The ability to tailor the intensity of a hike makes it accessible to individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

Connection with nature

For those unaccustomed to regular physical activity the prospect of heading to a gym can be intimidating. Hiking, on the other hand, provides a natural and scenic environment offering a more appealing setting for exercise. The desire to explore nature often serves as a strong motivator for beginners to lace up their hiking boots and hit the trails.

Varied terrain

Hiking trails come in various forms from easy, well-groomed paths to more rugged and challenging terrains. Beginners can choose trails that match their comfort level and gradually progress to more demanding routes. This adaptability ensures that hikers can tailor their experience to suit their fitness and skill levels.

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

Accessibility for people of different fitness levels

One of the most remarkable aspects of hiking is its inclusivity. Regardless of age, fitness level, or prior experience, there is a hiking trail suitable for everyone. Here’s why hiking is accessible to people of different fitness levels:

Trail diversity

Hiking trails are available in a range of difficulty levels from beginner-friendly to advanced. Novices can start with flat, well-marked trails, gradually progressing to more challenging routes with steeper inclines and uneven terrain. National and state parks often classify trails by difficulty helping hikers make informed choices.

Customizable distances

Hiking allows individuals to customize the length of their journey based on their fitness level and preferences. Beginners can start with short, leisurely hikes and gradually increase the distance as they build stamina. The ability to set one’s pace makes hiking an accommodating activity for people at different fitness levels.

Hiking Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supportive hiking communities

The hiking community is generally welcoming and supportive providing resources and encouragement for individuals at all levels. Local hiking clubs and online forums offer valuable advice, trail recommendations, and shared experiences fostering a sense of inclusivity and making the transition into hiking smoother for beginners.

Adaptability to health conditions

Hiking can be adapted to accommodate various health conditions and mobility levels. Many trails are wheelchair-accessible and nature reserves are increasingly mindful of creating inclusive outdoor spaces. Those with health concerns can consult with healthcare professionals to find suitable trials and modifications that cater to their specific needs.

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

Choose your hiking gear

One of the wonderful things about hiking is that you don’t need a bunch of high-tech gear to get out there. With a few essential items for the trail and a sense of adventure, you’re ready to head into the wilderness.

Hiking footwear

Footwear is one of the most important items you need to choose and it’s a very personal choice. Some hikers prefer supportive over-the-ankle boots while others enjoy lightweight trail-running shoes. The terrain you’ll be walking on can also affect your decision. 

Food and water

As a beginner hiker, it can be tough to know how much food and water you need. A good general recommendation for how much to eat is 200–300 calories per hour. About a quart for every two hours of moderate activity in moderate temperatures is a good starting place for water intake. These amounts depend heavily on several factors such as the intensity of your hike, the weather, your age, your sweat rate, and your body type. As you gain more experience, you’ll get a better sense of just how much you need.

Hiking Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appropriate clothing

Wide-brimmed hat or hat with a neck cape protects the head, face, and neck. Light-colored, light weight, long sleeve shirt protects shoulders, arms, and back. Light color reflects back more heat and light weight allows perspiration to evaporate.

In the realm of outdoor activities, hiking stands out as an accessible, adaptable, and immensely rewarding pursuit. Whether you’re seeking a stroll through scenic landscapes or a more challenging trek to test your limits, hiking offers something for everyone.

The physical, mental, and social benefits make it an ideal activity for beginners. So, lace up your hiking boots, explore the trails, and embark on a journey that not only enhances your well-being but also allows you to discover the wonders of nature.

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

Here are some helpful resources for hikers of all levels of experience:

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The FUNdamentals of Hiking for Seniors

Don’t just sit around the campsite! Hiking for seniors is more than doable for everyone. Just follow the 10 FUNdamentals.

Notice I’m posting this on the first day of the New Year for a reason.

Have you heard of First Day Hikes?

First Day Hikes is part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors. On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes are organized in all 50 states. Children and adults all across America participate in First Day Hikes getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.

As we visit with those we meet across the country in campgrounds, rallies, and camping meetups, we are amazed at how many RVers—especially seniors—are not hikers. And we think the first day of the year is a good time to start.

Some think it’s too challenging, too strenuous, needs too much-specialized equipment, and not enjoyable.

But, they are wrong.

Unless you have a serious underlying health issue, hiking for seniors is for everyone—no matter your age, experience, fitness level, or gear.

Hiking will so enhance your enjoyment of the RV Lifestyle, nature, the geographic area you are visiting, and your relationship with your camping partner that you will be instantly hooked.

So let’s break it down a bit and talk about what you need gear-wise, how to get started, and what advice you should follow.

But, make no mistake hiking is indeed for everyone at every age.

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

1. What is different about hiking for seniors?

Hiking is for everyone.

It’s just walking and exploring outdoors. That’s the simplest definition I can offer.

There’s no set speed you have to hike, no distance required to be counted as a hike, and you don’t have to dress a certain way.

2. How is the best way to start hiking for seniors?

Begin by taking walks around the campground or RV park. Then explore further afield.

Get proper hiking footwear. You don’t need huge, expensive, and heavy boots. Today’s hiking boots are as comfortable as shoes. Wear them on your neighborhood walks, or around the campground when you are camping.

Then start to venture out on trails.

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

3. Best hiking for seniors gear

There is some basic gear that will make your hike more enjoyable like that good pair of hiking boots.

You’ll want a hat to keep the sun from frying your brains (just kidding), a day pack, a water bottle, comfortable clothes, and maybe some hiking poles for extra stability on uneven ground.

A compass is also a good thing to carry with you. Many cell phones have them built-in as apps and that is nice. But there may not be cell coverage in the area you are hiking or your battery may run out of juice. So get, learn how to use it, and bring a compass along on your hikes.

And if you are hiking in bear country, every person in your hiking party should carry bear spray.

Want an RV resource and information on hiking in bear country?

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. How far should you hike?

If you are a total newbie and in reasonably good shape and can easily handle those neighborhood walkabouts I talked about earlier, a good wilderness hike to begin with is two two-mile round trip if the terrain is rough and hilly, maybe even less.

Eventually, a moderate distance for most beginners is three to four miles out and back.

Hiking is not speed walking. I consider it a nature stroll. You want to take your time. Look around. Take a lot of photos. Observe God’s creation in all its glory. Learn things. Breathe deeply. Listen.

Hiking Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Use a map

If you are in a wilderness area, you really want to have a map that clearly shows your route.

At most state parks and national parks, hiking trails are marked in brochures and printed maps available from the ranger station.

There are lots of books available for popular areas listing the different trails. The alltrails.com app is a must-have for finding great hikes in the various locations you visit.

You can even Google something like “best hikes near me” and get lots of suggestions.

But the whole point of a map is to know where you are going and how to get back plus a general understanding of landmarks, the terrain, and what you will be seeing.

Hiking Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Tell someone where you are going

In case of an emergency, you want someone to know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Consider sending a text or an email to a friend or relative.

You can say something like: “Greetings from Arches. Wish you were with us! We are going to Double O Arch in the Devils Garden section. It’s only a little over four miles round trip and has some beautiful scenery. I just wanted to let you know! We should be back by 4 pm. I’ll send you a photo when we return.”

By the way, if you do visit Arches, Double O Arch is a great hike. It’s 4.1 miles roundtrip but because you spend the first part climbing it’s officially classified as moderate in difficulty.

Double O Arch is the second largest arch within the Devils Garden area—after Landscape Arch of course. As the name implies, there are two arches here, one large, with a span of 71 feet, stacked atop a much smaller arch with a 21-foot span. Both are part of the same sandstone fin. Double O Arch is located at the far end of the Devils Garden Primitive Loop, 1.93 miles past the Devils Garden trailhead and parking lot at the north end of the Arches Entrance Road. Past Landscape, the trail becomes much more rugged and challenging.

Something else to do: Leave a note in the vehicle you used to drive to the trailhead or back in the RV if you set off from camp. Jot down the date and time, where you are going, the route or trail, and when you expect to be back.

7. Carry a day pack

For short hikes, a day pack is all you need.

You should bring a cell phone with you. Naturally, it should be fully charged. There are inexpensive cases and solar chargers that easily fit in a small pack. And even if cell coverage in the wilderness you are hiking is spotty, the phone is still useful. You can download and store maps on it, use the flashlight, and take photos.

Also, carry a small, dedicated flashlight in your day pack.

Other items we bring include rain ponchos, basic first aid kit, whistle for signaling, water bottle, insect repellant, and sunscreen.

For short hikes, you very well may not need all that. But being prepared just in case always makes good sense.

Be ware of the cholla! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Know the weather

Before setting out on any hike, be aware of the predicted weather conditions you are likely to encounter.

Excess heat and humidity, predicted storms, flash flood conditions, wind, and wildfire potentials are all factors you need to be aware of and take into consideration as you plan your hike.

If it’s expected to be hot, get an early start. Know what time sunset is and give yourself plenty of time to get back before dark.

9. Stick to the trail

The leading reason why hikers get lost is that they decide to go off-trail. So don’t. Besides easily getting disoriented, hiking off-trail damages the landscape.

Hidden obstacles off-trail can trip you up and falls are the leading cause of injuries to hikers. Besides, the trails are there for a reason. They are the best route through the area and almost always offer the best views. So stay on them.

10. Leave no trace

As the signs say, leave nothing but footprints.

But don’t take anything out with you, either—except your trash and photos.

Most public lands prohibit picking wildflowers or removing trees and shrubs.

Lately, we’ve seen notices on some of our hikes asking people not to make rock piles.

The idea is to keep public lands as wild and undisturbed as possible.

There’s a Leave No Trace movement that lists a code of conduct that responsible campers and hikers should follow.

Where will your next hike be?

Worth Pondering…

To me, old age is always ten years older than I am.

—John Burroughs

15 Essential Items You Should Pack When Visiting a National Park

From food to clothing to personal items, here’s what to bring to stay safe and comfortable during your next park visit

National parks give people the opportunity to learn about and explore nature up close. However, visitors often forget these stunning destinations are more than tourist attractions. They’re also wild landscapes with animals, rugged terrains, and intense weather conditions that can all be dangerous if not respected and properly prepared for. 

Weather, region, and elevation are important to consider when packing for a national park trip. Weather can be unpredictable any time of year, so be sure to check the forecast and pack accordingly.

If a trip to a national park is on your road trip itinerary, here are a few items that you should pack to be prepared for weather conditions, hiking trails, pesky bugs, and unexpected situations.

Food and gear

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

1. Water and snacks

Whether you’re exploring for an hour or an entire day, you should always bring water and food or healthy snacks along for your journey. Pack foods that will keep you moving such as nuts and trail mix, fruits and veggies. And you shouldn’t expect these items to be readily available at a moment’s notice. While some parks have food and drinks for sale in certain areas, others have limited (if any) shops or restaurants. You should always stay hydrated and pack enough food to keep yourself fueled throughout the day. 

2. Backpack or waterproof bag

Even for short park trips, you’ll want to bring a backpack or waterproof bag to keep your belongings safe and distribute weight evenly on your back which is especially important when you’re hiking. And if you’re hiking through water or in a rainy environment, a waterproof backpack can help ensure your gear stays dry. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Phone charger

Don’t plan on being close to power outlets or other areas where you can charge your phone. Bring a portable or solar charger with you if there’s an emergency and you need to reach out for help. If you’re visiting isolated areas of a park with no cell phone service, you should consider packing some type of GPS beacon for safety. This allows you to reach emergency responders without a cell phone signal.

4. Park map

When you enter the park, grab a map to carry with you during your visit. While maps on your phone and hiking apps are helpful when your phone is charged and there’s cell service, if you’re unable to use your phone, a paper map can help you find attractions and navigate trails. Plus, these can be fun souvenirs to keep track of park visits and the trails you’ve hiked.  

5. Sunscreen

Sunscreen is important year-round. Even on cloudy days, sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Not only does sunscreen help prevent damage to your skin, it also protects from painful, irritating burns that can put a damper on any outdoor activity. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bug spray

Insect repellent is another essential for your packing list. You’ll want to avoid pesky bugs throughout your hiking adventure. Protecting yourself from constant bug bites is key to an enjoyable park experience, from mosquitoes and ticks to biting flies and gnats. Before your visit, research the types of bugs you can expect to encounter and purchase repellents for those specific insects. Not all repellents are made the same, so it’s important to have one on hand that’s formulated to deter the environment you’re visiting. 

7. First aid kit

Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and blisters with a small first aid kit. Keep a larger one in your RV.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Photo equipment

Of course, you will want to document your trip to the national parks you visit. While you can simply rely on your phone to capture some of the most memorable moments, once you get to the top of that beautiful peak where the sun is setting over the distant horizon, you might wish you had brought along your tripod and D-SLR camera to help you better capture the beauty before you. Some basic photo equipment and a good camera bag won´t add much weight to any pack and will allow you to save for the ages your memories.

TIP: Remember to bring backup batteries and extra memory cards for your camera.

Clothing

9. Hiking boots or comfortable shoes

Come prepared with hiking shoes or boots that are durable and comfortable enough to wear for the duration of your visit. Unless you’re simply driving through the park, you’ll likely be on your feet most of the time. Flip flops, open-toed shoes, and other casual footwear aren’t recommended even if you’re not hiking. You should also consider bringing an extra pair of shoes if you’re walking through wet areas or hiking trails like Zion’s Narrows which requires you to submerse your feet in water for most of the journey. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Layers

Elevation change, desert landscapes, cold fronts, and other factors make temperatures fluctuate significantly. Pack an extra warm layer to keep on hand for unexpected temperature drops. This could be anything from a jacket to a thermal shirt depending on where you visit and during what season. While it may not make sense when hiking in the heat during the day, if you become lost or stranded outside after the sun sets, an extra layer could become a vital piece of gear.  

11. Protective hat

Aside from shielding your eyes from glare, a good protective hat will have a brim wide enough to protect your nose, ears, and neck from sunburn. If the temperature is cold, you’ll likely want to wear a beanie or other winter hat to stay warm and protect your head from the sun. In warm or mild climates, you should wear a brimmed or billed hat for sun and bug protection. Hats can be an easy way to prevent ticks and other bugs from disturbing your visit. 

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

12. Change of clothes

Bring along a change of clothes or store them in your car or a park storage locker (if available). When you’re out in nature, you and your clothes may get wet, muddy, sweaty, or all of the above. Having a spare set of clothes, especially dry socks and shoes can keep you comfortable and your day on track, no matter where you’re headed next. 

Personal items

13. Identification

Keep some form of identification with you especially if you’re traveling solo. If you sustain an injury or become unresponsive, this will help emergency responders identify you and potentially notify your loved ones of the situation. Be sure to store it in a protective case or wallet along with other important personal belongings.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Credit/debit cards

Many parks are going cashless. The idea is that by freeing national park staff from handling and processing cash they can spend more time improving visitor experiences and making park upgrades. So far this year, more than a dozen national park units have opted to go cash-free including Mount Rainier, Badlands, and Crater Lake. That’s on top of various other NPS units including certain monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, and recreation areas which no longer accept cash.

15. Medications

If you take any prescribed medications, keep them with you when possible. From hikes taking longer than expected to long lines at the park entrance, even well-planned itineraries can encounter an obstacle. Having your medications on your person helps keep you safe and provides peace of mind.

Worth Pondering…

I encourage everybody to hop on Google and type in national park in whatever state they live in and see the beauty that lies in their own backyard. It’s that simple.

—Jordan Fisher, American actor and musician

30 Tips for Making the Most of Your National Park Trip

Tips for making your next trip to a national park even more amazing

Mountains, seashores, grasslands, wetlands, coral reefs, and glaciers.

With sweeping vistas, stunning wildlife, and rugged landscapes, America’s national parks are truly a collection of national wonders. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or are a regular at the country’s national parks, planning ahead is the best way to ensure your trip goes off without a hitch.

Following are 30 ways to ensure that your trip to a U.S. national park is great from planning your route in advance to making sure you bring the right supplies and why it’s really important to pay attention to those safety rules. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Choose a time to visit that’s best for your park and travel style

First and foremost, make sure that the park you choose is open at the time of year that you’d like to visit. Several national parks are located in regions that can be dangerous, inaccessible, or uncomfortable if you select the wrong time. For example, you may not want to experience Death Valley National Park—the driest, hottest and lowest national park—in the heat of summer. Some parks such as Lassen Volcanic National Park are completely snowed in and unavailable in the winter.

2. Find out if the park you want to visit requires reservations

During peak seasons, many parks require timed-entry reservations that can be made in advance on each park’s website. You may not need to make that reservation in advance but checking before your trip is a good way to avoid disappointment at the gates. 

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

3. …especially if you want to go camping

Because many parks have limited camping space, reservations fill up quickly especially on major holiday weekends. It’s best to start checking at least a few months in advance for camping sites and though a last-minute spot might open up, don’t count on getting lucky at many of the busiest parks.  

4. Research the best hikes

National parks offer some of the country’s best hiking opportunities and websites like AllTrails can help you find hikes that suit your abilities and sightseeing wishes. By planning your hikes in advance, you’ll be able to strategize and maximize your time in the park. For more on hiking in national parks check out these articles:

Scenic drive in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. …and don’t forget about the scenic drives

If hiking’s not your thing, don’t let that keep you from checking out the country’s incredible national parks. Almost all the parks offer scenic drives, many of which will get you up close and personal with nature without requiring a long trek. These scenic drives make an ideal start:

6. Consider traveling during shoulder season to beat the crowds

During the busy season, crowded parking lots and so many tourists can put a damper on your enjoyment of the outdoors. Consider planning your trip during shoulder season or just before or after the busiest times for the park you’d like to visit. A quick Google search will reveal when the park is busiest and also let you know about any weather conditions that may result in closures or other limitations on your visit to the park. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Prepare yourself for the elements

Hiking even short trails at national parks requires the right equipment and weather conditions can change rapidly depending on the climate. Make sure you’ve got good shoes, essentials like a rain jacket and sunscreen, and a first-aid kit in the event of any mishaps. 

8. Bring plenty of snacks and water

Most national parks don’t boast a ton of services like restaurants which means that you’ll need to bring your own (healthy) snacks. Water is especially important, especially if you plan to hike — plan on bringing about 1 gallon per person even if you’re just going on short walks, and more if you have more strenuous activities in mind. 

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. …and don’t forget to pack out all your trash

Leave no trace is an essential principle of being outdoors responsibly and that means getting rid of all your trash—all of it! Pack a trash bag in the car and toss your waste in only approved containers. Don’t toss out food scraps, either. They may be a detriment to the animals that live in the park. 

10. Be respectful of wild animals and keep your distance

The animals you encounter in national parks are wild; they’re living in their natural habitats and they behave accordingly. Respect the full-time inhabitants in the parks. Don’t attempt to touch them or point a selfie stick at them. Don’t chase them and stay the recommended number of feet away from them. Even though they’re cute or really majestic, never touch a wild animal, no matter how small or docile it seems. Wild animals are wild and contact with humans can endanger their lives — and the lives of the human.

11. …and take good care of the land you’re visiting

National parks are protected sites and the rules exist for a reason. Stay only on marked trails, don’t take rocks or other souvenirs from the ground, and never carve into any trees or rock formations. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Consider buying an annual park pass to save money

If you’re planning to visit multiple national parks this year, consider investing in an annual park pass. Costing around $80 per year, these passes provide access to all parks managed by the National Park Service (NPS) along with parks managed by other agencies, and are a real bargain considering that many can cost upwards of $20 per visit. 

13. Check to see if you qualify for any national park discounts

Veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and some students are eligible for discounted national park passes, some of which are good for a lifetime. Check out the NPS website for details on these discounts. 

14. Don’t forget to fill up your gas tank before beginning the drive

As with snacks, gas stations aren’t always abundant near national parks and you’re probably going to do a ton of driving. Fill up the tank before you head out and make sure to keep an eye on the gas gauge throughout your trip. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Know your limits in the outdoors and operate within them

The beautiful scenery of many national parks can also mean some pretty rugged, unforgiving terrain. If you’re not an experienced hiker, make sure to stick to shorter, safer treks, and don’t forget to bring plenty of water and a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t take unnecessary or stupid risks. And don’t expect to rely on your devices if you get into trouble; in some national parks, cell and data service is negligible. Know your limits and stay within them, especially with children.

16. …and follow all the safety guidelines

In national parks, the rules are there to both preserve the gorgeous landscapes and also keep you alive. In addition to avoiding fines and other penalties, closely following all posted safety guidelines will also prevent you from ending up in a seriously dangerous situation. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Don’t expect great cell phone service

Thanks to the remote nature of most national parks, cell phone service can be sketchy, especially at high altitudes or in really rural areas. Make sure to download offline maps from your favorite navigation app, or make use of the paper maps provided at most ranger stations. 

18. Travel the right time of the year

Whether you’re looking for great fall foliage or a warm trip in the summer, choosing the right time of year at your park is essential. Going too early (or late) can mean road and trail closures so make sure to do your research in advance. 

19. Check in with park rangers when you first arrive

Stop at the visitor center when you first arrive. Often, you’ll find interesting exhibits and artifacts that will help you learn more about the land you’re visiting. The park rangers there will have current insider information that you’ll need such as which hiking trails, roads, and areas of the park are closed and what special ranger programs are being offered during your stay. Park rangers can also help you figure out what hidden trails to try or the best place to watch the sunset (or sunrise). Consider a ranger-led hike or nature talk. While there, pick up any needed guidebooks and maps.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Practice trail etiquette

Stay on designated trails. By doing so, you’ll help prevent erosion and damage to vegetation. Do not litter, pick flowers, or use the outdoors as your personal gift shop. Be aware of your surroundings and make room for quickly approaching groups, fast-paced cyclists, or horseback riders. Take a moment to move to the side and politely let them pass.

 21. Stay at a national park lodge

If you really want to immerse yourself in a national park, consider staying on property. Many parks offer hotels and other lodging and of course camping is an option. Being in grand old lodges literally surrounds you with park history. An added benefit is that you have the early mornings and late evenings in the park. There’s nothing like waking up and seeing the Grand Canyon or Zion Canyon right in front of you.

22. Camp for at least one night—or several

The ultimate thing to do when visiting a national park is to camp under the stars. By unplugging, you’re forced to be present, you more easily connect with nature, and you engage with other people more fully. But, do plan in advance and book a site early.

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

23. Tend to campfires and cooking stoves with the utmost care 

In 2013, a hunter’s illegal fire got out of control in the Stanislaus National Forest in California. For nine weeks, this Rim Fire burned the backcountry areas of Yosemite National Park consuming 257,314 acres. In 2018, Yosemite National Park closed for the first time since 1990 due to the nearby Ferguson Fire which burned 96,901 acres. In that same year, the Howe Ridge Fire, ignited by a thunderstorm, burned more than 12,000 acres of Glacier National Park. Read more on wildfire safety.

24. Have a mission in mind…

When in nature, there’s a lot to be said for being spontaneous and making discoveries by chance rather than overscheduling yourself. But when you show up at a national park and don’t have any idea about what you want to do, you might end up not doing much. On the other hand, making a list of everything you want to do in a sprawling national park can be overwhelming and cause you to become overly concerned with time allotments. So, go with at least one mission in mind to accomplish on your trip.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. … But don’t forget there are wonders—and place to wander—away from the famous sites 

Rather than sticking to the most popular sites, go out a bit and hit the trails (or water), particularly those routes that are longer than three miles. They may not be listed as the park’s top must-see locations but they’re almost guaranteed to be just as spectacular, yet apart from the crowds.

26. Journal every day

Make sure to record your memories in a journal each day so you don’t forget the good times—and the bad. They’re all part of your experience and your story. Journaling is also a great way of releasing any anxiety or stress.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Go with a good attitude

Remember that the national parks belong to all of us. Its part of their appeal and what makes them so special. Undoubtedly, there will be times when the places you’re visiting will get uncomfortably crowded. Meet those challenges with a smile. It’s important to remember our joint venture in these places and play well with others.

28. Passport to your national parks

A National Parks Passport is a really fun memento and a great way to mark each park you’ve visited. You pay $10 for the passport and each park will have a stamp you can put in your book. You can look back and see the exact date you visited different places.

29. Share your experience

If it’s possible, take a family member or a friend along with you on your adventure; there’s no better way to share your experience.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Leave the park better than you found it

My final piece of advice is to leave the park better than you found it. This also means knowing and committing to the National Park Service’s Leave No Trace principles. They range from minimizing campfire impacts to disposing of waste properly. By being a good steward of these national treasures, those who come after us can continue to enjoy them as we do now.

In my opinion, visiting just one national park is almost impossible. They quickly become addictive.

Worth Pondering…

I encourage everybody to hop on Google and type in national park in whatever state they live in and see the beauty that lies in their own backyard. It’s that simple.

—Jordan Fisher, American actor and musician

How to Hike Safely During Arizona Summers

Water, water, water! The magical liquid that keeps us alive!

Arizona is known for many things like hiking, beautiful scenery, wildlife, and history. 

However, during the summer months it’s known for one thing: heat. 

“It’s very serious,” said Arizona Fire and Medical Authority Division Chief Ashley Losch. “It will kill you if you aren’t paying attention to the signs.”

Hiking Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, Arizona saw the highest number of heat-related deaths in some time so as temperatures start to rise, so does concern for safety.

Heat-related emergencies can creep up quickly so it can be life-saving to know when there’s a problem.

We get used to being outside and enjoying the nice weather and it hits you out of nowhere. Complacency is a problem when it comes to heat.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea/vomiting, and/or cool and clammy, pale skin.

And that’s time to get inside, sit down, and drink some water. Don’t chug the water though, take small sips.

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

Heat stroke is much more serious. Signs include severe headache, confusion, and a change in behavior. The body also stops sweating and will feel hot to the touch (heat stroke can present itself when the body reaches at least 103 degrees). If the person is in an altered state, don’t give them water; instead call 911 to get help on the way.

Get them inside, cooled down, and that means active cooling. So, ice packs in the groin, armpits and something behind the neck. Maybe even a cool compress on the head.

Every minute counts. Every minute your body is above that critical temperature it’s causing damage—damage to your kidneys, damage to your liver, your brain.

Hiking Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things someone can do during the scorching temperatures. How much to drink depends on the person, so experts say a good rule of thumb is to drink when thirsty. 

Even better is to drink constantly throughout the day (as much as you can) and if you’re headed outside, be sure to hydrate before, during, and after. 

Phoenix has already experienced its first 100-degree day and temperatures are going to keep climbing. Here are some tips from Arizona State Parks on staying safe on the trail.

>> Related article: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

Hiking is one of Arizona’s most popular weekend activities. But the days are getting longer—and hotter. Every year, over 200 hikers are rescued from Phoenix alone, according to Arizona State Parks and Trails (ASPT).

But there are numerous ways to get out on the trails and enjoy Arizona’s gorgeous summers without becoming one of those hikers in distress. 

Hiking North Mountain Park near Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hydration is a journey, not a destination

I can’t stress this one enough: Always bring more water than you think you’ll need! 

You should be drinking water before, during, and after a hike, according to ASPT. You may not feel like you’re sweating a lot because of the dry weather but you’ll be losing water even faster in the heat.

“When you’ve finished half of your water supply, it’s time to turn around—no matter where you are on a trail,” the department said. 

Hiking Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How much to drink?

How much you need to drink depends on a number of factors such as the activity you’re doing, intensity level, duration, weather, your age, your sweat rate, and your body type. A good general recommendation is about one pint (16 fl. oz.) of water per hour of moderate activity in moderate temperatures. You may need to increase how much you drink as the temperature and intensity of the activity rise. For example, strenuous hiking in high heat may require that you drink one quart (32 fl.oz.) of water or more per hour. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to fine-tune how much you drink.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Preventing Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids usually through sweating exceeds the amount taken in. If you don’t counteract this by drinking water, you risk becoming dehydrated.

>> Related article: Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

The following early signs of dehydration are a tipoff that your fluid intake is insufficient:

  • Dry mouth
  • Decrease in energy
Hiking Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More serious symptoms of dehydration:

  • Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • The umbles (stumbling, mumbling, grumbling, and fumbling)
  • Dark or brightly colored urine with less volume (Note that certain foods and drinks like those containing B12 vitamins can cause urine to be bright yellow so urine color isn’t as reliable as other symptoms)

The remedy for dehydration is simple: Drink water. Drink the moment you feel thirsty. Try to take frequent sips of water rather than chugging large amounts after your thirst grows intense.

So know what to look for and stay on top of your hydration game!

Hiking Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead and gear up

Hydration tips

Drink often: Rather than chugging water infrequently take many smaller sips to continually hydrate.

Don’t forget to snack: When you sweat, you lose electrolytes which can sap your energy. If your activity lasts for only an hour or less, this usually isn’t an issue but when you’re out for longer it’s important to compensate for the loss. Snack foods with sodium and potassium can help as will foods with calcium and magnesium. For an extended, high-intensity activity, also consider bringing an electrolyte replacement sports drink.

Hiking Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink more at altitude: Doing any activity at higher altitude can lead to dehydration. You’re less likely to crave water and feel thirsty at higher elevations so it’s important to drink frequently.

Rehydrate: Drinking after exercise gets your fluid levels back to normal and can help with recovery. This can be as simple as drinking a glass of water when you get home or if you want to get scientific about it, drink 16–24 fl. oz. of water for every pound you lost while exercising.

Plan your route: Water weighs a lot (16 fl. oz. is just over a pound), so if you want to avoid carrying extra weight on a run or bike ride, plan a route that will take you by a water fountain where you can drink or refill a bottle. Another option is to use your car like an aid station and plan an outing that does loops from your vehicle. You can stop at your car to refill a water bottle and grab a quick snack.

Wear sun protection: Getting a sunburn can expedite dehydration, so lather up with sunscreen and wear sun-protection clothing before heading out.

Set a timer: If you tend to lose track of the last time you drank set a timer on your watch to sound an alarm about every 20 minutes as a reminder to take a sip.

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail at Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know where you’re going

Before you hike, make sure you have all of your trail maps and guides downloaded or printed.

>> Related article: Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

You can find plenty of trail information at AZStateParks.com/Arizona-Hiking or third-party organizations like AllTrails or Gaia GPS. When you’re heading out, it’s a good idea to take a GPS with you and make sure your phone is fully charged.

Keep an eye on emergency alerts. The National Weather Service will issue a heat warning if the temperature poses a threat.

Hiking Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you’re hiking alone, tell someone you know where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. 

And make sure you have the right gear. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Wise-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Long lightweight sleeves
  • Light-colored, moisture-wicking, breathable clothing
  • Sturdy, comfortable footwear
  • Insect repellent
  • Salty snacks
  • Plenty of water
Hiking Paralta Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Know your limits

As so many people like to say: It’s a dry heat. And I would add, so is an oven! And that dry heat will sneak up on you. Make sure you know the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion can cause dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting as well as cool and clammy, pale skin.

Heat stroke which is much more serious can cause severe headaches, confusion, and changes in behavior. A person suffering from heat stroke will stop sweating and feel hot to the touch.

At that point, it’s time to call 911. 

Hiking Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s always best to avoid the problem entirely. There’s no shame in calling off a hike and turning around! 

>> Related article: Traveling To a National Park this Summer? Prepare For High Temperatures!

During a hike, check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. How are your energy levels? Do you still have enough water? What’s the temperature?

Questions like those are the key to having a fun-filled weekend on Arizona’s beautiful trails.

As ASPT puts it, “Every trail can be your favorite if you have a great time.”

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Everything You Need for Lake Camping

Summer is prime camping season but if you don’t pick the right destination you may find yourself sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why camping near the water is key!

Lake life is where it’s at. Camping near a lake allows for playing at the beach, going fishing, boating, canoeing, or stand-up paddle boarding. Being by the water not only gives you plenty of things to do but also triggers a sense of calm and joy. I love hearing the sound of birds calling or waves hitting the shoreline. And there’s nothing better than ending a beautiful day of RVing with an even more beautiful sunset over the lake.

To prepare for a week of RVing at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.

Boating on Lake Okeechobee, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book early

Waterfront campsites are among the most popular spots at campgrounds. Be sure to book your lake campsite far in advance if you want to guarantee a spot for your RV. Be sure to hit the refresh button often and check for last-minute cancellations at campgrounds. 

Screen room at Poche’s RV Park near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shoo, bugs!

Where there is water, there are typically pesky insects—especially when temperatures heat up. It’s the unfortunate part of camping near a lake or in the woods. It is hard to truly enjoy the outdoors when you’re constantly swatting away unwanted insects. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks are among your worst enemies so come prepared with you anti-insect weapons of choice: bug spray with DEET, permethrin-treated clothes, Thermacell, and a screen room.

Related Article: 6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bug spray: Look for a spray with 25 to 50 percent DEET. Spray every couple of hours especially if you’re using repellent that isn’t waterproof. After a day on the water, douse yourself in bug spray before coming back to the campsite.

Permethrin: Treat your clothing with permethrin a few days before your camping trip for best results. The treatment usually lasts up to five or six washes. The best part is that after you treat your clothes there’s no odor or sticky residue that bug spray often leaves behind. 

Lake Martin near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thermacell: Create your own little forcefield of protection around your campsite by using a Thermacell or two. It works wonders for any outdoor area whether it’s the dock, beach, campsite, or the park. Thermacells run off a butane cartridge which heats up a replaceable mat that’s saturated in a repellent called allethrin which releases into the air to create a protection zone. 

Screened room at Poche’s RV Park near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Screened room: A screened room is an easy way to create an outdoor space that’s bug-free. It’s basically a large tent with screen walls so that you can still see and feel the outdoors while keeping unwanted pests away. It does take up space so ensure you have room for one when booking a campsite. 

Related Article: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Fishing at Parker Canyon Lake in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reel in your next big catch

If you’re camping by a lake, be sure to pack your fishing gear. In fact, many RVers choose lake campsites because they want to fish. It’s a great way to spend time outdoors alone or with friends and family. Consider keeping an extra travel rod in the RV in case you forget to pack the fishing gear or end up breaking a rod.

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

Telescopic rods are perfect for RVers. The telescope in and out so that they can be a full-sized rod but also collapse to fit inside a backpack for portability. Be sure to have a ready-to-go tackle box filled with a variety of lures including spinners, jigs, bare hooks, crankbaits, spoons, and bobbers. And be sure to swing by the bait shop for minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers, or grubs depending on what you’re fishing for.

If you plan to catch and cook, then be sure to pack a sharp filet knife, cutting board, and your favorite dry batter. If you keep these fish fry essentials in your RV pantry at all times there will be fewer things you need to remember to pack.

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

Safety first with life jackets

When it comes to spending time on the water, safety is always first. If you plan to boat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board, a life jacket should always be worn or at least on board.

If you don’t like the bulk of life jackets, there are lower profile vests as well as inflatable vests that inflate upon immersion in water or manually inflate when you pull the inflation handle.

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

Stay safe in the sun

While soaking up the sun and having fun, it’s easy to forget about sun protection. Before heading out onto the lake, plan ahead and lather on your sunscreen. A day on the water usually means stronger sun rays due to reflection from the water.

Related Article: 10 Best Campgrounds with Lakes

Lake Mead, Nevada

UV rays can even impact your skin even when swimming in a lake as the rays penetrate through the water. Look for a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and apply it often.

If you’re not vigilant about putting on sunscreen, there are plenty of athletic and outdoor apparel brands with built-in UPF 50+ sun protective clothing. The material is lightweight and breathable while protecting your body from sun exposure.

Lake George, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget to protect your noggin and peepers by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. A hat can not only be stylish but also helps block the sun from burning our scalp and ears. Eyes also need protection from sun exposure too. Look for sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.

Boating (and fishing) on Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get on the water without towing a boat

No lake getaway is complete without a way of getting on the water. When towing isn’t an option because you’re already hauling an RV, there are still other ways to bring a boat with you to the lake. You can paddle around on a lake in a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board. It allows you to fish and explore different areas of the lake that you otherwise can’t experience.

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

Many kayaks can fit through the door of most RVs. Wrap your kayak in a blanket before sliding it in to avoid scuffing up cabinets and walls.

Most toy haulers are perfectly suited for hauling all your water sports equipment. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards will easily slide through the ramp door opening. Canoes tend to be longer than kayaks, especially if it’s a tandem, so be sure to measure your canoe before attempting to make it fit in your RV. Another advantage of a toy hauler is that they have hooks on the floor to secure any objects while on the move.

Canoe on a roof rack goes where you go © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to be able to take your kayak to a lake that isn’t within walking distance, you’ll want a roof rack for your toad/tow vehicle. Again, you’ll want to take note of the length of your kayak and how far forward you can secure it onto your roof rack so that there is enough clearance between your RV and kayak when making turns. 

If you don’t want to deal with hauling a kayak or canoe, look into the wide variety of inflatable boats that are available today. From kayaks to stand-up paddle boards, floating docks, and regular tube floats—there are many durable and versatile options to get on the water.

Many inflatable kayaks come in a kit with a carrying case for storage and portability and a manual pump so that you can pump them up anywhere. Since it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to fully inflate, consider an electric pump.

Fish Lake, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach Party Essentials

A day at the lake may put you in the mood for a beach party or at least the atmosphere that feels like a beach party.

Related Article: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Must-pack essentials that make your lake day feel more like a party may include:

  • Folding beach wagon to carry all your items for a day at the beach
  • Beach bag to carry additional essentials
  • Sand-free beach towels as a way to mark your home base on the beach and to dry off after a dip in the lake
  • Portable beach chairs that you can place on the shallow shoreline to cool off your toes (ideally one with a cup holder)
  • Cooler to keep your food and drinks perfectly chilled throughout the day (throw in some freeze pops for a summer treat and also to keep items cold)
  • Umbrella or portable beach shade to protect little ones and grownups from the sun
  • Waterproof Bluetooth speaker to blast some Beach Boys or other lake-vibe tunes
  • Beach games like volleyball, water frisbee, water pickle, and velcro ball toss 
Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake camping comes with some preparation work but packing the essentials and planning ahead will help you enjoy your RV getaway even more. After that, relax! You’re on lake time.

Worth Pondering…

It is good to appreciate that life is now. Whatever it offers, little or much, life is now—this day—this hour.

—Charles Macomb Flandrau

What to Expect at the National Parks this Summer 2022

You’re hearing it could get crowded? It will, but this guide will help with how to avoid the commotion.

You’re hearing you might have to reserve your entrance time? You will this summer season but only at certain parks and only during certain times of the day. I have the details below.

You’re hearing the weather might be hard to plan for? It will likely be unpredictable but we’ve got the best ways to pack smart.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It seems like the US national parks have never been more popular as vacationers seek fresh air and the best of nature. Record numbers of visitors are expected to make their way into America’s 63 national parks this summer of 2022. 

Follow these tips and tricks to get you out of your vehicle and onto the trail so you can leave the crowds behind.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book your reservations in advance at these parks

To combat overcrowding and human impact on the fragile ecosystems at some of the busier parks, the National Park Service (NPS) will require visitors to make reservations in advance at seven national parks this summer: Glacier, Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, Haleakalā, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and Shenandoah. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Angel’s Landing is one of the most popular hikes in any US national park. The trail to the summit ascends a sandstone spine providing hikers with spectacular views and a true sense of adventure along the way. As of April 1, 2022, lottery-based permits are required to hike this trail. The lottery can be entered the day before your hiking day.

Related: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Starting April 3, Arches National Park implemented a temporary pilot timed entry system slated to expire after October 3, 2022. The $2 tickets will be required between 6 am and 5 pm and can be purchased on a first come first serve basis three months in advance.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

From March 1 through November 30, 2022, hiking Shenandoah’s most popular mountain—Old Rag— will require a $1 permit. Old Rag day-use permits can be purchased at Recreation.gov up to 30 days in advance of your hike.

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

3 top tips on how to prepare ahead

Making park reservations before a visit isn’t the only thing you need to do to prepare for a trip to one of the national parks. Depending on your goals, there are several things you can do to ensure your trip goes as planned.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Make campground reservations

Camping can be one of the most rewarding (and easiest on your wallet) ways to spend the night at a national park. But during the summer, many campgrounds at the most popular parks—Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, and Zion, to name a few—get booked well in advance. Reserve a campground on Recreation.gov to make sure you don’t find yourself scrambling for a place to pitch a tent (or park your RV) at night.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check to see if the park you’re visiting is designated as an International Dark Sky Park and if it is make sure to spend at least several nights camping under the stars. Parks like Arches, Great Basin, and Joshua Tree can be spectacular during a new moon on a clear night.

Related: Escape Crowded National Parks at these 4 Alternate Destinations

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Plan for backcountry travel

Heading into the backcountry can be intimidating. But it can also be the only way to find peace and solitude in places like Yellowstone where the majority of visitors stick to the roadside attractions. Traveling into the backcountry away from roads, crowds, and on-demand rescue is a skill that can be honed over time.

To get you started consider the 8-mile round trip hike out to Chilean Memorial in Olympic National Park. Check with the park in advance to see if a backcountry travel permit is required—and don’t be afraid to ask park rangers for beginner-friendly recommendations!

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Use a map

While looking up “the best hikes in Arches” or “where to camp in Joshua Tree” is a great starting point for planning a trip to a national park, there is no replacement for a simple map. With an endless number of trails at each park, using a map to pick a route and destination can provide priceless insight into available options. Almost every major destination in a park has numerous trails leading to it and a map will show you all of them—the long way, shorter way, steeper way, a route that goes past a waterfall, and so on.

Consider visiting one of the lesser-visited parks

With 63 national parks in the US, it’s not hard to get away from the crowds even during the busiest season. Yet, parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Arches, and Zion seem to get all of the attention.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s great news for those who are open to exploring any of the national parks but are hoping they won’t have to sit in a traffic jam while doing so. Parks like North Cascades in Washington, Capitol Reef in Utah, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and Lassen Peak in California are easily accessible, experience a fraction of the visitors as some of the more popular parks and are just as spectacular.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring matters the most 

Pack the proper layers for hot days and cold nights: As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Having the right clothes can make or break your trip to a national park.

Related: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Avoid cotton, which doesn’t dry once wet, instead opt for synthetic materials, fleece, and wool. Make sure you have several layers so you can adjust as necessary depending on the weather and activity. A good rain shell, set of hiking pants, down jacket, and base layers will not only keep you comfortable but also safe out on the trail. And don’t be afraid to pack more layers than you think you’ll need.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink water

“A giant thirst is a great joy when quenched in time.”

—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968)

Not drinking enough water may be the most common mistake made by hikers. Whether you are walking in the heat or the cold, at sea level or a higher altitude, adequate hydration should always be a priority. When hiking in hot and/or humid conditions, one quart per hour is generally recommended as the minimum requirement. The same goes for altitude where although the temperature may be cooler, the air is drier and thinner. In milder conditions at lower altitudes, half of the above-mentioned quantity should normally suffice. Drink often. Rather than chugging water infrequently, take many smaller sips to continually hydrate. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. By then it is too late. 

Not the best place for a Tilley hat © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun Protection

Wide-brimmed hats provide shade. Shade keeps you cooler. Cooler temperatures mean you don’t have to drink as much water. Rocket science it ain’t.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring snacks

If you plan on leaving the Visitor’s Center and heading out for even a short hike, it’s important to bring food. From a safety perspective, having extra snacks is crucial in case something unexpected happens, keeping you out for longer than originally anticipated. Not to mention, having to cut a trip short due to not being prepared can be a pretty big disappointment.

Related: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get appropriate hiking shoes

While a pair of tennis shoes will likely suffice during a short stroll, anything more than a moderate hike will be a lot more enjoyable with the appropriate footwear. Some prefer lightweight trail running shoes which have the traction necessary when ascending and descending steep and rocky sections of trail. What they lack, however, is support. A solid leather hiking boot while heavier than a trail running shoe provides ankle support that can come in handy, especially when carrying a heavier load on your back. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Cool Camping: Practical Steps for Staying Cool in your RV

Summer is upon us. In fact, as Walter Winchell wrote “It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.”

The Pacific Northwest is in one of the most intense heat waves ever recorded with the worst still to come. Portland, Oregon, hit 112 degrees Sunday (June 27) shattering the previous record by 5 degrees. Seattle set a record high, hitting 104 degrees the same day, breaking the previous record by 1 degree. Seattle also experienced it’s first back-to-back 100 degree days in history and then hit the hat trick Monday. The Western North American heat wave also extends into Northern California, Nevada, and Idaho.

Sacramento River at Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans are not alone in feeling overheated. The same high-pressure system baking in the northwestern United States has also produced record-breaking heat in Western Canada.

On June 28, the temperature in Lytton, British Columbia, a town of fewer than 300 in the Fraser Canyon, hit 118.2 degrees smashing Canada’s old national heat record of 113 degrees. That’s 1 degree hotter than it’s ever been in Las Vegas, 1,300 miles to the south, and hotter than the all-time record highs for 31 states including several in the South. And by Tuesday, the temperature in Lytton soared to 121 degrees. Lytton is at 50 degrees N latitude.

As sad aftermath to these heat records, the fires then swept in. By 6 pm. Wednesday Lytton’s residents had been ordered to evacuate as explosive wildfires neared. As of this morning (Friday), the village lies in ashes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the residents of this devastated community.

The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, on June 27, local records were set in areas such as Ashcroft (110.8 degrees) and Kamloops (111 degrees); in all, 59 weather stations in British Columbia set records for hottest temperatures recorded for that date. These were largely beaten in the following days (Kamloops, for instance, registered 114.4 degrees on June 28 and 117.1 degrees on June 29).

On June 28, records were set in Abbotsford at 109.2, Victoria at 103.6, and Port Alberni at 108.9. As of June 29, 103 all-time heat records were set across Western Canada, including east of the Rocky Mountains. In Alberta, Banff (97.9 degrees), Edmonton (100 degrees), Jasper (102.4 degrees), and Grande Prairie (104.4 degrees) have all seen the strongest heat ever measured in these communities. Nahanni Butte, Northwest Territories also set a regional record at 100.6 degrees.

Quail Creek State Park in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these extreme weather conditions, this is prime travel time, the season for putting endless miles of road in the rearview mirror of your travel trailer, motorhome, or fifth wheel. Most RV excursions take place during the hottest months of the year and even RVs with excellent climate-control systems can get hot and stuffy. Here are some tips on staying cool when you hit the road—no matter the weather outside.

RVers want to stay cool. Whether you spend most of your time in the rig or simply want a cool, comfortable home to return to at the end of the day. The first and most obvious remedy is a good air conditioning unit. That unit, however, is only as good as the power on which it runs. 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the right hookups are important to a functioning AC, so, too, is regular and diligent maintenance. Having a functioning AC unit in your RV during the summer months is crucial and that’s why it’s imperative to keep your AC unit in ship shape by performing regular cleaning and maintenance, to get ahead of any major issues before they start. Regularly changing any filter screens and giving the entire unit a once-over can go a long way.

But even with the AC on, taking certain considerations to stay cool can benefit the comfort level inside your rig. When it comes to staying cool in your RV, there are a handful of surprisingly simple tips that go a long way.

Trees offer shade from the intense summer sun at Jeckyl Island Campground in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Selecting your RV site with care helps to prevent it from getting hot in the first place. This sounds obvious, but it still needs to be stated: park in the shade if you can. The shade provided by large trees, hills, or even buildings can make a huge difference in the internal temperature of your RV. Sites facing the southwest should be avoided and make every effort to ensure that the refrigerator is in the shade. Avoiding direct sunlight and keeping your shades and blinds closed can make a huge difference. On a shady and cooler day, open the windows to let fresh air in and to make sure there’s enough ventilation in the RV. You may also consider upgrading to dual-pane windows which will also be beneficial for winter camping.

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

New technologies are changing the way RVs are powered and cooled and while some of the technologies are still emerging, many RVers have added solar to their RVs roof and invested in the latest battery technology. Being truly self-contained is on the way as RVs get adequate electricity to run air conditioners, microwaves, and other devices in the RV. With the new battery technology coming, help is on the way.

If you’ve done your best to prevent your RV from heating up in the first place and turned on your AC to cool it down, then there are other simple things you can do to help KEEP your RV cool.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cover your roof vents with a reflective surface. Foam-based vent fillers that are tucked inside ceiling vents are available at most RV dealers. They help to reflect the sun’s rays off your RV. Their insulating abilities help your RV stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Don’t forget your shower skylight.

Extend your awning to help shade your RV (if it’s on the sunny side). This will not only shade the windows on that side of your RV but the walls too.

Put a bowl of ice in front of a table fan. The air passing over the ice water gets chilled and provides some relief. And if you don’t have any ice then a damp cloth placed over the fan will have a similar cooling effect.

Expect hot summers and warm winters in Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the exterior door closed and try to minimize frequent openings. Opening the door repeatedly allows the hot outdoor air to enter your RV.

Avoid using the stove or oven. On hot days, plan to use your outdoor kitchen or campfire to cook meals or eat meals that don’t require cooking such as sandwiches and salads.

If your RV has incandescent light bulbs or halogen lights, turn them off as they emit heat. Consider installing LED lights which give you light (obviously) but they don’t release heat.

Summers are hot along the Lower Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the windows closed during the daytime to prevent hot air from infiltrating your RV but open up the windows at night if you are camping in a place with cool evenings.

One of the most important ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to drink plenty of water (most experts suggest eight glasses per day. Plain water is the best way to hydrate, no second-guessing necessary. But that can be hard to do when water tastes so…watery. Fortunately, it’s possible to get hydration from a variety of drinks but be careful that you’re not having too much of the ones that dehydrate.

Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consuming any kind of liquor removes water from your tissues, meaning you have to drink even more water to offset the effects. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating your drink is.

Curious to see which beverages are the best for keeping enough fluid in you? The following six are hands-down your best hydrating choices: water, milk, fruit-infused water, fruit juice, watermelon, and sports drinks.

Chilie peppers in Hatch Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat spicy food. Capsaicin, a compound in chilies that gives them a kick, triggers a response in your nervous system that makes your face sweat and cools you down.

Symptoms of heat illness include dizziness/fainting, nausea/vomiting, rapid breathing and heartbeat, extreme thirst, and decreased urination with unusually dark urine. Age can make you more vulnerable to heat stress. Babies, young children, and seniors are less able to sweat and adjust to changes in temperature.

Staying cool at Lake Pleasant, Arizona

And finally, additional tips to stay safe in extreme heat include:

  • Avoid the direct sun as much as possible
  • Avoid strenuous activity and exercise
  • Avoid sunburn and wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin and an SPF 30 lip balm
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley)

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Take a Hike. Do it Right!

During the summer, staying hydrated and cool is vital!

More than 200 hikers annually are rescued from City of Phoenix desert and mountain parks and preserves.

Courtesy the City of Phoenix, the following checklist can help keep you from being a statistic.

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

Watch the weather

Yes, “it’s a dry heat”—but Arizona’s temperature can be deceiving and deadly. Hike when it’s cool outside, try early morning and evenings when there’s more shade.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail at Medera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dress appropriately

Wear proper shoes, clothing, wide-brimmed hat (we recommend a Tilley Hat), and sunscreen.

Horseback riding at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring Water

Hydrate before you go. Have plenty of water, more than you think you need. Turn around and head back before you drink half of your water.

Hiking Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep in Contact

Carry a mobile phone.

Team up: Hike with others. If hiking solo, tell someone your start and end times and location.

Hiking Bell Rock Trail in Red Rock Country near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be honest

Do you have a medical condition? Asthma, heart problems, diabetes, knee or back problems? Don’t push yourself?

Hiking the White Tank Mountains, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Responsibility

Don’t be “that person”—the one who wasn’t prepared, shouldn’t have been there for health reasons or ignored safety guidelines. Be the responsible hiker who takes a hike and does it right!

Worth Pondering…

‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.

—Sydney Smith, in Lady Holland, Memoir

My Tilley Hats Go RVing

I am an expert on Tilley hats. Well, maybe not an expert, but I sure have a lot of experience with the hats that I own!

RV travel is about seeing new places, experiencing life from a different perspective, taste testing local cuisine, making new friends, experiencing a random moment, and enjoying my good looking and highly functional Tilley hats.

Even though they are supremely endurable I’m the proud owner of four Tilley hats. I recently added another two Tilley to my arsenal for the sake of color variety or just because!

That WAS a great Tilley! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes a Tilley hat so great?

Tilley hats are an excellent example of form follows function in that the shape of the hat is primarily based upon its intended purpose or function.

That WAS a great Tilley! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They have a number of features that indicate someone put a lot of thought into the design. They look great, are comfortable, and pretty much will last your entire lifetime (guaranteed).

Tilley LTM6 Airflo Camo (Source: Tilley)

Tilley hats are exceptionally well designed and handcrafted in Canada with a dash of style and flair. Tilley hats are versatile and lightweight, strong and durable, wrinkle-free and packable, and nearly indestructible, although your family dog could prove otherwise. Tilley’s are designed and engineered for outdoor adventure and are great for RV travel and camping, so you are ready for an unexpected turn on the road ahead.

Tilley Airflo showing inside label (Source: Tilley)

The label on the inside of every Tilley says a lot: “The finest in all the world. Insured against loss. Guaranteed for life. Replaced free if it ever wears out. It floats, ties on, repels rain, blocks UV rays, won’t shrink and comes with a four-page owner’s manual. Handcrafted with Canadian persnicketiness.” Tilley has a sense of humor and makes an awesome hat.

Tilley LTM2 Airflo Olive (Source: Tilley)

The label also includes washing instructions: “Machine-wash or hand-wash (cool water). Wash frequently to ensure sweat will not permanently discolor fabric. Reshape and dry (DO NOT machine dry), then re-stretch over knee.”

My two new Tilley hats are a broad brim style LTM6 Airflows in olive and in camo.

Tilley Airflo (Source: Tilley)

Tilley’s hemp fabric has a linen-like appearance and feel. The strongest natural fiber it is resistant to mold and mildew, and to salt water. It has a UPF rating of 50+, the maximum UV protection rating given.

Industrial hemp is an outstanding fiber, useful in textiles, high strength cordage, and papermaking. As a farm crop it is relatively pest-free, does not deplete the soil, and requires little fertilizer.

Tilley LTM8 Airflo Mesh (Source: Tilley)

The tough-as- nails hemp fabric makes up into a truly high performance hat. This is possible because Tilley make the hats very well, of outstanding material, enabling them to offer their lifetime guarantee of replacement if the hat wears out.

Since hemp is a natural fiber the hat tends to fade after a few years of wear—and becomes “uniquely yours as a result.”

Tilley logo band box (Source: Tilley)

The Tilley Airflo version, made from Nylamtium fabric, a strong water-and-mildew resistant nylon, provides lightweight protection from the sun while blocking UV rays and also repels rain.

The polyester mesh around the crown is a distinctive feature that helps air circulate inside the hats, keeping you cool on warm summer days.

That WAS a great Tilley! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What about my other two Tilley hats, you ask? My original Tilley, a 15+ year-old classic cotton hat is in semi-retirement, and my newest Tilley is somewhere in the bowels of our motorhome, location unknown!

There’s one other hat that I wear from time to time, and that’s my Shiner Bock baseball cap, just to remind me that it’s “five o’clock somewhere!”

Tilley Endurables, the Canadian company long recognized as the maker of high quality outdoor hats, was started in 1980 when Alex Tilley needed a good hat for sailing and couldn’t find one, and decided to make one himself. He spared no effort, sought advice from a milliner, sailmaker, and hat maker, and, as he says “got it right”.

That WAS a great Tilley! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only afterwards, when he saw that he had an outstanding hat, did he decide to sell it through stores. The sale of the original hat, and expansion into a range of hats and travel ware, has benefited from Alex Tilley’s imagination and insistence on outstanding quality.

Worth Pondering…

“Why do you always wear a hat?”

” ‘Cause it fits my head.”

—Robert Redford, in The Horse Whisperer