The 8 Best National Parks for a Weekend Getaway

Only have two days for a quick getaway? These stunning national parks are perfect for a weekend trip.

All over the United States, there are national parks filled with trails, wildlife, and plenty of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Even better: plenty of them can be thoroughly enjoyed throughout a two-day weekend.

From the lush green landscapes of the Smoky Mountains to the desert environment of Arches National Park, odds are, there’s a park that’s close to you (or just a car or RV ride away) that can make for an epic quick getaway.

If you’re thinking about a weekend getaway in the great outdoors, consider one of these eight national parks which are among the best for an in-and-out style vacation. And for even more travel ideas, don’t miss The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

A weekend getaway to Joshua Tree National Park—which is best if you’re coming from the western U.S. like California, Nevada, or Arizona—can include everything from birding and horseback riding to camping and stargazing. While the park is known for its interesting-looking trees, called Joshua trees, it’s also known for its rocky landscape that beckons rock climbers into the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 300 miles of hiking trails and 8,000 established rock-climbing routes, there’s something for everyone who enjoys the great outdoors. Just be sure to take a break in the middle of the day so you can stay up late to enjoy the nightly spectacles in the sky from the Milky Way galaxy. The park’s nearly complete darkness allows you to see millions of stars and planets throughout the year.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. While a little planning is a key to getting into the park on busy days, once you’re in for the weekend, you don’t need to leave. The park allows camping along the South Rim and North Rim and those who want to venture past the edge of the canyon into the depths can take a mule ride (though some limitations do apply and spots fill up months in advance).

Weekend getaways are the most convenient from Arizona, California, and Utah.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

One of the coolest national parks in the country is Arches National Park in Utah. The park features more than 2,000 natural rock arches that dot the rugged desert landscape. Camping at the park can be done at Devils Garden Campground from the beginning of March until the end of October. The area offers a tranquil location to lay your head at night and spectacular views to wake up to each morning. Tours via bike, car, and horse are all available daily and allow you to see different sections of the park.

Utah, Colorado, and Nevada are all within a weekend getaway distance to the park.

Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

With ten different camping locations and plenty to offer in the way of activities, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great weekend escape for families or friends traveling together. Trails offer picnic stops where you can munch on a snack or eat lunch near waterfalls. Those who love to fish can do so within the park as long as they have a fishing license for the states of North Carolina or Tennessee. (Fun fact: You can keep up to five of the fish that you catch and be able to cook them for dinner at night.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideal for those living in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands takes up 275 square miles of breathtaking landscape in southeastern New Mexico. Its most noticeable feature: miles of undulating dunes made of blindingly white gypsum crystals which were formed 10,000 years ago when shallows sea that had existed for millions of years dried up leaving the gypsum behind. Though long a National Monument, White Sands was elevated to park status in December 2019. Four marked trails allow hiking and since gypsum unlike sand reflects the sun’s heat, the dunes are easy on your feet. And if you’re so inclined, you can rent plastic sleds to slide down them.

New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and West Texas are within a weekend getaway distance to the park.

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

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

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Hidden in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, America’s newest national park attracted over one million visitors last year so clearly, the secret is out. It’s been called the Grand Canyon of the East and this park’s most prominent feature is a wide, fast-flowing whitewater river that snakes through the gorge. Inside, you can hike on any number of different trails, traverse the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, the third-highest bridge in the US, or indulge in a full-on class five whitewater raft trip along the 53 miles of accessible river. Just bring some dry clothes.

New River Gorge National Park is ideal for those living in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

A weekend getaway to Badlands National Park—which is best if you’re coming from the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, or Kansas—can include everything from hiking and horseback riding to camping and stargazing. This bizarre moonscape was created millions of years ago when ash deposits and erosion sculpted sedimentary rock into rippled peaks.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fossils show that rhinos and camels once roamed here but today these 244,000 acres are home to bison, bobcats, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep. As long as you stay hydrated, the park’s 800,000 annual visitors find the Badlands fascinating to explore. Hikers scale the rocks to take in otherworldly views of the White River Valley and cyclists coast by colorful buttes and grass prairie. At night, the pitch-black sky reveals 7,500 stars and a clear view of the Milky Way; telescopes provide close-ups of moons and planets.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing compares to sleeping under the stars and with four campgrounds there’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah National Park.

Just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is also ideal for those living in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

Essential tips for the first time RVer

Planning your first-ever RV trip is a pretty darn exciting time. You’re about to take on the wide-open road, zipping off anywhere the wind might be calling, all with your very own private villa-on-wheels.

Of course, the exact same factors that make first-time RV trips so thrilling can also make them a little overwhelming for the eager road trip planner. That wide-open road we’re talking about is… well, wide open. There are so many places you can go, after all. It only takes a quick glance through your favorite road atlas to be struck with decision paralysis. With so many amazing sites to see, how will you ever choose?

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From hiking through the lush green forests of the Pacific Northwest to laying out a blanket in the sand on the sunny eastern shore, the US has so much to offer an RV adventurer. And if you’re already dealing with learning your rig’s ropes, putting together an itinerary can become more of a duty than a delight.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone put together a list of easy, yet exciting RV road trip ideas so you could simply choose?

RVing with Rex to the rescue! Here are some top road trip planning tips.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First Time Road Trip Ideas

You know I’ve got your back here. So to make your first time RV experience easier, I came up with this list of easy American road trip ideas to help get you on the road as effortlessly as possible—or at least give you some great brainstorming material.

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

Of course, which of these trips will work best for you will depend in part on where you’re starting your journey from, how much time you have available, and the type of experience you’re after. For instance, a weekend ski trip to Vermont might make perfect sense for a Boston February getaway, but it’ll be less doable if you hang your hat in Phoenix. (Or if it’s July by the time you’re reading this post, for that matter.)

Related: 6 Essential Tips for the First Time RVer

That said, hopefully these fun and simple road trip ideas will help make life a little bit easier when you hit the road for your first RV outing.

Ready to dive in? Here are some of my favorite first-timer options.

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

Quick Road Trip Ideas

If you’re looking to get off the Interstate and onto a scenic route, this list is for you! Here are some simple road trip ideas to get you going.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Southern Charm Sojourn

The American south has so much more to offer than comfort food—not that we’re turning down a plate of chicken and waffles anytime soon. One great route is to connect the following southern cities each oozing with its unique brand of charm: Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, and New Orleans. The only thing you’ll get more of than historical knowledge is Spanish moss and sunshine.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Gulf Coast Gambol

Take a trip from Galveston to Florida’s Emerald Coast—and down to the keys, if you’ve got the time. Sweeping waterfront views and exciting cities will greet you at every stop along the way—not to mention an abundance of fresh, delicious seafood.

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pacific Coast Paradise

Everyone should take the time to meander all the way up (or down) California’s Pacific coast highway at some point in their lives. Whether you start in Eureka or San Diego, you’ll be treated to some of the most breathtaking byways in the country—a turbulent, crashing ocean flanking you on one side and majestic redwoods on the other. Potential stops include Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Luis Obispo, and a whole host of others. You honestly can’t go wrong.

Tucson Lazydays KOA © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Road Trip Ideas on a Budget

Want to see the world without wiping out your wallet? Yes, it is possible—especially in an RV. Not only will you be able to save on your road trip food budget by cooking your own delicious, healthy meals in your RVs kitchen, but you can also save 50 percent on campsites you stay in with a Passport America membership. Good Sam, KOA, and FMCA also offer camping discounts to members, typically 10 percent.

Related: The 10 Essentials Every RV Owner Should Buy Before Their First Road Trip

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

Check out this article on how to choose the perfect RV Park and campsite.

Looking for even more concrete ways to save money while still satisfying your inner explorer? Here are some of the best cheap road trip ideas I’ve come across.

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

4. State Park Promenade

There’s a lot that’s awesome about traveling in America but one thing I particularly love as an RVer is that no matter where I am there’s likely have a beautiful state park only a short drive away. State parks are filled with all sorts of outdoor activities and views to discover. (Plus, camping is likely available.)

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Beachy Break

You don’t have to live near an ocean to plunge your toes into the sand. Whether it’s Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna Lake or Bartlett Lake in Arizona, any lake shoreline will do—and you’ll be so busy relaxing, you won’t even have a chance to run through your travel budget on souvenirs or touristy activities.

Weekend Road Trip Ideas

Sometimes, the best family road trip ideas are the ones you can take at the last minute. Here are some quick-fix ideas when you need to get out of town… now.

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

6. Woodsy Wonderment

Even if you make your home in a large, metropolitan area such as Houston or Phoenix, there’s likely some woods or wilderness nearby. From Atlanta it’s just a couple of hours to the mountains and Floridians can retreat to the state’s central springs. No matter what, getting away from the rush and bustle of an urban center may be what the doctor ordered!

Related: Top 7 Tragic Rookie RV Mistakes To Avoid

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

7. Active Outdoor Outing

From extreme adventures like mountain climbing to simple biking and hiking trails, America is host to some of the best landscapes for outdoor activities in the world. Exercise and enjoyment at the same time—now that’s how to do it! Once again, you can’t go wrong with a state park where activities may include hiking, biking, boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming, and ranger-led activities.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 Amazing Places to Visit this Spring

Spring is here and it’s time to start thinking of where you and the family might want to visit in the RV. And it also means spring break! So whether the kids are out of school or you just have the itch to get out of town for a week or two, these are the top spring break destinations for RV road-tripping in 2022.

Disney World © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orlando, Florida

The kids will love visiting local attractions like Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando, LEGOLAND, and Universal Studios Orlando but the theme park capital of the world has more to offer than amusement parks.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orlando isn’t just the world’s most magical destination. There’s plenty to enjoy outside from many beaches including Cocoa Beach to adventures like wildlife and birding, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, nature trails and parks, airboat tours, and the Canaveral National Seashore. For a more educational endeavor, visit the Kennedy Space Center.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell, Arizona

Created by a manmade reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Powell straddles the states of Utah and Arizona. Rent a boat and hit the water for some fishing, tubing, or water skiing. Picnic on the shoreline or enjoy dining in one of several restaurants on the lake.

Wahweap RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three campgrounds operated by park concessionaires accommodate RVs at Lake Powell: Wahweap RV & Campground in south Lake Powell and Bullfrog RV & Campground and Halls Crossing RV & Campground both in north Lake Powell. All three areas offer full hookup sites and primitive camping.

Wahweap Marina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweap is centrally located at the Wahweap Marina which offers plenty of lake transport for rent. There are 139 full hook-up sites with access to laundry and showers as well as Wahweap Grille, Wind Café, and a gift shop. Bullfrog offers 24 RV spaces with restrooms and showers and access to the Bullfrog Marina. Check out the restaurant and gift shop at nearby Defiance House Lodge. Halls Crossing offers 24 RV sites with restrooms and showers and is located next to the amenities of the Village Store.

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

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition National Park Service offers areas for primitive camping including Lees Ferry Campground, Lone Rock Beach Primitive Camping Area, and Stanton Creek Primitive Camping Area. These campgrounds do not take reservations and do not have phone numbers.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

For a different beach vacation than typical Florida or California, head to Gulf Shores on the Alabama Gulf Coast. Here you’ll find 32 beautiful miles of white-sand beaches including the main public beach, Gulf Place.

There are plenty of water-based activities from beach lounging to fishing, diving, boating, snorkeling, parasailing, and kayaking. Temperatures in the spring range from pleasant mid-50s to warm mid-70s.

The Wharf in Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nonwater activities include biking, hiking, and ziplining. Visit the Wharf in Orange Beach for fun on their Ferris wheel, mini-golf, zipline, and movie theater. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great spot for RV camping is Gulf State Park, a reasonably priced campground with private, lakefront campsites, and resort-style amenities. With almost 500 sites, the park also has 11 bathhouses, a camp store, laundry facilities, a swimming pool, tennis and pickleball courts, horseshoes, volleyball, a nature center, and a fishing pier. 

Worth Pondering…

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor

Absolutely Best Road Trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

This road trips goes from Phoenix to Sedona to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Prescott to Jerome and back to Phoenix

Many visitors to the heart of the Southwest are surprised by the diversity found in the Grand Canyon state. From cactus strewn deserts and crimson canyons to swaying grass lands and towering ponderosa pine forests, there is so much to see and do. So, buckle up and prepare to be amazed by Arizona’s wide-open spaces and jaw-dropping natural beauty. You can turn this itinerary into a weekend getaway or take your time and spend a week or more exploring Arizona on this road trip.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start in Phoenix

Begin your adventure in the capital city of the 48th state known for year-round sunny skies and reliably warm temperatures. Phoenix is the epicenter of a sprawling metro area (the country’s 5th most populated) known as the Valley of the Sun. You’ll find dozens of top-notch golf courses, scores of hiking and biking trails, and the well-regarded, family-friendly Papago Park and adjacent Desert Botanical Gardens.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 1: Montezuma Castle

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized four sites for their historic and cultural significance thereby naming the nation’s first National Monuments. Among these was Montezuma Castle. Today, visitors get a glimpse into the region’s past and the enduring legacy of the Sinagua culture through a visit to the well-preserved cliff dwellings. The 20-room, “high-rise apartment” embedded in limestone cliffs tells the remarkable story of the resourceful people who lived along Beaver Creek for more than 400 years.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 2: Sedona (via Highway 179 from I-17)

Whether you choose to stay for an afternoon or several days, spectacular Sedona will steal your heart. The stunning, red rock vistas are unlike any you’ve seen elsewhere.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore via more than 400 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through a wonderland of colorful stone, forest, and creek beds. Consider a famous jeep tour, part thrill ride and a unique way to discover historic native sites in the area. Sedona is well known for its energetic vibe, so be sure to ask about the area’s vortexes. Considered a center for enlightenment, the vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy conducive to healing and personal exploration. Don’t miss scenic Oak Creek Canyon.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 4: Williams

This northern Arizona town is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be by-passed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and restaurants. Old time western shoot outs are staged in the middle of Main Street. And bear, bison, and wolves roam in Bearzona, a drive-through animal park. The colorful town of 3,000 residents is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway where visitors can hop aboard restored rail cars and be entertained by musicians as the train traverses the scenic, high-desert plateau between the historic depot and the grandest canyon of them all.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 5: The Grand Canyon

Whether you drive to the Grand Canyon or arrive via the Grand Canyon Railway, you’ll soon understand why it’s a treasured wonder of the world. Carved by the mighty Colorado the multi-hued rock walls revealing millions of years of geologic history descend a mile deep and stretch for 277 miles.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sunrise to sunset, the canyon is the main attraction. However, with so much to see and do a stop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center can help make the most of your time while exploring Arizona’s most impressive landmark.

Note: A free shuttle bus operates on the South Rim.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 6: Prescott

A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row where saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set amidst the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest, the western town offers more than 400 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Paddle on any of four pristine lakes in the area and enjoy a picnic lunch before getting back on the road.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop 7: Jerome

On a return trip to Phoenix stop in the tiny town of Jerome perched a mile high on the side of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley between Sedona to the north and Prescott to the south. Once a mining boom town boasting bars and bordellos, Jerome earned the moniker Wickedest City in the West. Decades later in 1953 when the mines shuttered the Arizona camp soon became the largest ghost town in the west.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the cliffside destination, a National Historic Landmark, is proud of its historic restoration and a quirky collection of art studios, galleries, wine tasting rooms, and specialty shops. Visit the Jerome State Historic Park and the Historical Society Mine.

Worth Pondering…

The limestone of this canyon is often polished, and makes a beautiful marble. Sometimes the rocks are of many colors—white, gray, pink and purple, with saffron hints.

—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons