Parks Galore

If you are planning your next camping trip, don’t forget to look at state parks. You just might find your new favorite camping spot!

In today’s post, I shine the spotlight on state parks—thousands of facilities across the United States established and operated at the state level. They’ve been preserved for their natural beauty, historic interest, or recreational features—often all three in one location. In contrast to many iconic U.S. national parks, state parks just might be the unsung heroes of outdoor recreation.

State-operated facilities have much to offer. For working folks with minimal travel time, a nearby state park can make a great weekend destination.  

Many RVers have a national park bucket list. If you’re one of them, have you also considered state parks, some of which could be in your backyard? State parks are great places to get outside and explore, and they typically are less crowded than national parks. Even if state parks are usually smaller, you still can find stunning views, great camping options, and fun activities. You also can learn more about local history while supporting the surrounding community.

State parks are not operated by the federal government as national parks are, so they rely on entrance and camping fees to maintain the land and facilities. By RVing to a state park, or even purchasing a day pass, you are helping to preserve the park for other visitors to continue to enjoy. These camping and entrance fees also may be less expensive than national park fees or those charged at a private RV park.

Whether you’re looking for a scenic area to visit for a day, a relaxing spot to spend a weekend, or a place to stay for a week or more, consider a state park. In Canada, the equivalent would be a provincial park of which there are many great options. For inspiration, peruse the info below.

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

Find a State Park

There’s nothing better than being out in nature enjoying its beauty; many would even say it is healing to the soul. Depending on where you live, this can be a beautiful time of year to take in the scenery, hike, fish, camp, leaf peep, or simply enjoy the sounds of nature. And what better place to do it than in a state park?

According to stateparks.org, there are 10,366 state park areas across the United States. They include 241,255 campsites and 9,457 cabins with over 40,000 miles of trails as well as countless waterways and rivers—all covering 18.6 million acres of land. That means RV travelers and others have numerous opportunities to explore a variety of places.

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

So, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I even begin to start exploring over 10,000 park areas?” For starters, here are articles on specific state parks you might find useful:

Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And let’s not forget Canada, also brimming with natural beauty and a vast number of provincial parks—nearly 1,200. Provincial parks in Canada are protected areas of land and water designated and managed by each province to encourage recreation and sustainable tourism and promote science and education. They range from ecological reserves with no facilities to day-use and overnight-stay parks with unserviced and serviced campgrounds including RV waste dumping, and toilet and shower facilities. Features include hiking trails, waterways, and beaches, and outdoor equipment rentals.

The province of Alberta ranges from fossil-filled flatlands to the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains. The province currently manages more than 470 parks which provide cozy walk-in tenting options and roomy RV campsites.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended Provincial Park: Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

Beachcombing, bird watching, or sunbathing—there is plenty to do in the 600-plus provincial parks of British Columbia. The park system boasts more than 10,700 vehicle accessible campsites and approximately 2,000 walk-in or backcountry ones. Of the parks, 230 have accessible facilities for those with disabilities. Winter activities and basic camping are popular in BC’s provincial parks.

Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended Provincial Park: Wells Gray Provincial Park

To find more information on Canada’s provincial parks, check the individual website for each province.

Here are seven of the most enchanting state parks in America.

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

Lost Dutchman State Park – Apache Junction, Arizona

The Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. RV camping is available at 138 sites, with 68 of them providing water and electric hookup services; restrooms and showers are located nearby. Hiking, mountain biking and year-round wildlife viewing opportunities are available for guests.

Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

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

Custer State Park – Custer, South Dakota

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

Get more tips for visiting Custer State Park

Vogel State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia

Vogel, one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain inside Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is particularly popular during the autumn months when the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a colorful display of fall foliage. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Get more tips for visiting Vogel State Park

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park – Gulf Shores, Alabama

This Alabama state park promises that you’ll never be bored if your family brings their RV here to camp. Almost 500 improved RV sites are available at Gulf State Park, with pull-thru, back-in, waterfront, and ADA accessibility. All RV sites provide full hookups plus Wi-Fi. Eleven modern bathhouses are scattered throughout the park, and some sites are located near the pool, playground, tennis courts, and hiking trails.

Get more tips for visiting Gulf State Park

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park – Elephant Butte, New Mexico

The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hookups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Get more tips for visiting Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Myakka State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park – Sarasota, Florida

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

Get more tips for visiting Myakka State Park

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

McKinney Falls State Park – Austin, Texas

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service. 

Get more tips for visiting McKinney Falls State Park

Worth Pondering…

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.

—John Muir

The 25 Most Beautiful Places in the U.S. and Canada

These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel

What is the most beautiful place in America? To compile most beautiful places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most beautiful places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are definitely worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most photographed sites in the world but there’s no way pictures can do it justice as impressive as they may be. Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term breathtaking. The vast geologic wonderland, one mile deep and up to 18 miles across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Historic Antebellum Mansions, Civil War sites, year round festivals, pristine beaches, barrier islands, and mouthwatering Lowcountry cuisine are just a few of the reasons why Charleston is one of America’s favorite destinations. Experience this diverse southern city which blends French, English, West African, and traditional Southern American cultures into the music, art, food, and lifestyle. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

Glorious Navajo Sandstone cliffs, rainbow-colored canyons, and incredible biodiversity make Zion one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.

>> Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sedona, Arizona

Renowned for the radiant red sandstone formations surrounding it, Sedona is set in a serene spot. The towering red cliffs are almost other-worldly in a way and they are definitely worthy of a photo or two. Make sure to check out some of the area’s most popular sightseeing spots while you’re there such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Coffee Pot Rock.Located in the center of Arizona, the small city has long been considered a sacred and spiritual place. Many New Age shops, alternative healing and wellness centers can be found around town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

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

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

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Lake Winnipesaukee

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 mph, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue. Driving down this highway will allow you to take in the stunning Appalachian Mountains including multiple valleys and peaks such as the Peaks of Otter and Roanoke Mountain.

>> Get more tips for visiting Blue Ridge Parkway

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Banff National Park, Alberta

Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home) and azure glacier-fed lakes such as Moraine Lake set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S. and as such it has a very colorful history including a historic main plaza that will make you feel as if you’re in an entirely different country. The City Different is renowned for its abundance of unique attractions, a wide array of art galleries, extraordinary museums, and magnificent architecture. Not surprisingly, for decades Santa Fe has also been a haven for artists including Georgia O’Keefe. By staying in the downtown area’s historic La Fonda you can walk to the Plaza to discover handmade jewelry and browse beautiful works of art.

>> Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Monument Valley is a minimalist attraction located along the border of Utah and Arizona. In spite of its simplicity, this red-sand desert may just be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. A 17-mile Valley Drive leads into the area, and you can spot multiple sandstone buttes that make for amazing pictures. This valley will make you feel like you are part of an Old Western movie, set in the Wild, Wild West. John Ford’s Point is a great way to look over the scenery allowing you to feast your eyes on the Mittens buttes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

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

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

There are plenty of reasons to visit the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is packed with hiking routes ripe with emerald greenery, waterfalls and bodies of water, and pretty wildflowers ready for photos. Plus, there are many great stops along the way such as Clingmans Dome which contains an observation tower resting on top of the area’s highest peak for breathtaking views. There’s also Cades Cove which is a quiet little valley that feels like a calm, quiet place lost in historical times.

>> Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos. Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

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

12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de shay) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is an old city that is home to multiple fascinating sites. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and flanked by old buildings like museums and churches that are simply stuffed with history. Downtown, you’ll find one of the biggest National Historic Landmark districts in the U.S. which also connect to the riverfront and the coast. Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and fitted with a stupendous fountain, romantic benches, and plenty of iconic oaks covered in moss for an even more calming aesthetic.

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Wells Gray Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Wells Gray Park, British Columbia

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

>> Get more tips for visiting Wells Gray

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park may sound foreboding but in reality it’s one of the most beautiful places in the US. It is famous for holding an extremely rich and diverse fossil bed that is definitely one of the best that earth has to offer. On top of that, Badlands National Park is packed with incredible rock formations that look stunning at all times of the day with their differently shaded stripes. There are also grasslands if you’re more for wildlife where you can spot all the prairie dogs herding sheep for a calm, serene experience.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Tombstone, Arizona

You can’t come to the Southwest and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town. With attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and provide the opportunity soak in the town’s history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

An incredibly unique location, White Sands National Park consists of a reaching, widespread expanse of white gypsum crystal sand dunes backdropped by a picturesque blue sky. Though the sight of white sand as far as the eye can see isn’t the most exciting trip for some this tranquil environment is so individual and one-of-a-kind that it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Bask in the calm peace, feel the soft, warm sand beneath your toes, and marvel at the vastness of this monument.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Hoover Dam, Arizona and Nevada

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard to miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hoover Dam

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Arches National Park, Utah

The Arches National Park looks like a scene out of a movie. Erosion from millions and millions of years has led to the creation of more than 2,000 arches each fashioned naturally from sandstone. It is worth noting that environmental change has caused 43 of these arches to fall to time which means officials warn against getting too close. Still, the sight of these bright, orange structures is well worth the extra caution and you’ll want to plan your trip soon to catch as many of them as possible in full glory.

>> Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.

>> Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park on Rio Grande is an absolute wonder of untamed wildlife, spanning over much of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the Chisos mountains. You can go on a road trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, relax in the Langford Hot Springs, view the Sam Nail Ranch’s broken-down husk, and enjoy sights of limestone formations across the Rio Grande. There’s so much to do that you may just need to come back again!

>> Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Black Hills, South Dakota

In the early 1800s, 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. Rampant overhunting decimated their ranks and by 1889 fewer than 1,000 remained. Today, their numbers have climbed to 500,000; Custer State Park manages a healthy herd. Roading the Black Hills you’ll see the iconic buffalo and other legendary sights including the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, sprawling parks and the town made famous for having no law: Deadwood.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Black Hills

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico

In the Chihuahuan Desert lie more than 100 limestone caves and one of them is none other than the Carlsbad Cavern. Spikes hang from the ceiling in droves and clusters and its winding rocky walls are perfect for spelunkers and adventurers. The way you choose to go is up to you. You can go in through the beautiful, conventional entrance or you can begin 750 feet underground. Either way, you’re in for some enticing exploration,

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Cavern

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2023

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

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller

Throughout her life as an author and social reformer, Helen Keller motivated people around the world to overcome obstacles even in the most difficult circumstances. Despite losing both her sight and hearing when she was just 19 months old, she went on to become a prolific writer, lecturer, and disability rights advocate, helping found the American Civil Liberties Union and authoring hundreds of essays. Keller wrote these words of encouragement in her 1940 book Let Us Have Faith, calling upon us to take chances in life and trust in the path of discovery.

Glacial Skyway, Icefields Parkway, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to July! While the sun and warmth may be reason enough to celebrate, there’s even more cause for jubilation in America’s neighbor to the north. Today is Canada Day, a holiday marking the Great White North’s independence from Britain. On July 1, 1867, a Dominion was formed through the British North America Act as approved by the British Parliament. It consisted of territories then called Upper and Lower Canada and of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The act divided Canada into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and it included provisions for other colonies and territories to join in the future which made possible the growth of Canada into its present form. The act served as Canada’s constitution until 1982.

By terms of the Canada Act of 1982, the British North America Act was repatriated from the British to the Canadian Parliament and Canada became a fully independent country. At the same time, the name of the national holiday was changed to Canada Day. It is celebrated with parades, displays of the flag, the singing of the national anthem, O Canada, and fireworks. When July 1 falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following day.

July 1 is now commemorated annually nationwide from Halifax to Vancouver and everywhere in between. In honor of this historic occasion, today’s roundup touches on a variety of cultural histories in Canada and the United States.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also check out my recommendations from July 2022 and August 2022.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

Travel to southern Alberta and you’ll uncover unique landscapes like badlands and hoodoos around lush green river valleys and literal writings on the stone around you. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park offers the natural scenery of the Milk River and the badlands but also significant cultural history.

The Visitor Centre trail is about 0.3 mile with great hoodoo views and information on upcoming events or tours. The park offers guided experiences throughout summer but you can visit for a hike or picnic any time of year. The Milk River is also a wonderful spot for a paddle.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. American History, Alive in Stone

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.  Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles site because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from environmentalists and Native American groups. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled on the Mount Rushmore location which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain.

After securing federal funding construction on the memorial began in 1927 and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941 his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

The National Park Service (NPS) took control of the memorial in 1933 while it was still under construction and has managed the memorial to the present day. It attracts nearly three million people annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Best of the Rockies

When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want.

Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named in honor of a British nurse who saved the lives of many soldiers during the First World War, Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most recognizable mountaintops in Jasper National Park. Here, you can hike along different trails that lead you to some fantastic panoramic views.

If scenic road trips are your thing, you’re definitely going to want to drive the Icefields Parkway. Named after the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers that reside there, this enchanting stretch of highway passes through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and is one of the most remarkable routes in Canada.

So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, and bighorn sheep and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where nature and history meet

If you should know one thing about Cumberland Island, know this: The southernmost barrier island in Georgia with its 18 miles of unspoiled beach and acres of breathtaking natural beauty is more than sand and sea.

People obviously appreciate Cumberland for the peace and quiet, the recreation, the beaches, the camping, and whatnot. But they might not know—unless they’ve either done some reading or taken a ranger-led tour—that there’s history here. This place has been an integral part of practically every era in American history—and pre-American history.

Dungeness ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can walk the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and tour the 22,000-square-foot Plum Orchard Mansion, two early 20th-century Carnegie family estates.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands Astronomy Festival

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16.

Per the National Park Service, “Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomers (and their telescopes) from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, and the University of Utah will be on hand throughout the festival to lead guests in for day and night observations.

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Ocmulgee Mounds

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. NPS manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. But national parks are created through congressional legislation and there are many considerations including available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

The verdant human-made knolls here are a vivid window into more than 17,000 years of Indigenous habitation. The ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is a leading contender for the next national park slot thanks to a robust community initiative and bipartisan support in Congress. “We know that our ancestors are buried in this land and national park status would establish protections,” says Tracie Reevis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Exploring Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are tons of guided tours available. Tour guides point out particularly interesting features, teach you about \the formation and history of the area, and help you stay safe as you explore these naturally formed caves.

The visitor center is also quite impressive. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’ll love the 16-minute Hidden World video presentation that they play every 30 minutes. This will give you additional information about the caverns so you can more fully enjoy your experience once you’re in them. The center also has exhibits about the native plant and animal species as well as hands-on learning experiences about the geology and history of the area. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and buy some fun souvenirs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Black’s BBQ, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel to Texas for beef brisket 

Travel to Texas and you’ll quickly learn something important about the locals: they know their barbecued meats. So when they line up for four or more hours to get some, it has to be special. That’s the situation at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue six days a week. Through the Franklin’s menu includes pulled pork, ribs, sausage, and more, the main attraction is its smoked beef brisket.

The team here keeps it simple rubbing the meat with a mix of salt and black pepper then cooking it low and slow in oakwood smoke until it’s fall-apart tender and encased in a thin, salty crust. It’s a juicy, smoky Texas classic, judged best-in-class by Texans themselves. 

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could drive to Lockhart, the state-legislated Barbecue Capital of Texas and be back in the time it takes to get into Franklin’s. But the queue is good fun; you can have a beer and meet some friendly Texans while you wait—and damn, that brisket is good.

Franklin Barbecue can now be shipped to your home anywhere in the United States. Get the best brisket in the known universe without standing in line. 

Learn to smoke meat like a pro! Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.

>> Get more tips on the best of Texas BBQ

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park

The construction is complete on the Gateway to the Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park. The park is part of the Alabama Birding Trails Coastal Trail Series making the boardwalk a great place to bird watch.

The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different bird species within each region.

Stop number 26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding Trail, Meaher State Park’s 1,327-acres are situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a multi-use scenic park with picnic areas, 61 RV camping sites, 10 improved tent sites all with full hook-ups and a shower house with laundry facilities for overnight visitors. A boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at the gate house to pay a nominal $3 entrance fee and then drive to the shell road which runs a quarter mile to the aforementioned boardwalk. Park here (there is a chain across the shell road at this point) and walk on toward the boardwalk that extends out into Mobile Bay.

In winter, watch for Swamp and White-throated Sparrows as you approach the boardwalk. Herons, egrets, and gulls can be seen from the boardwalk and Least Bittern (summer) and Clapper Rail. In winter, American White Pelicans find this a favorite spot as do large rafts of waterfowl.

In summer, this is a great place for terns including Gull-billed Tern. In addition, Least Terns often gather on the railings of the boardwalk offering excellent views. On the south side of the island looking west into the bay there are often White Ibis. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be frequently seen near the entrance eating crabs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico considers roasted chile as official state aroma

The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.

Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile.

Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to proudly have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.

“It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chile. “I have tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that is that distinctive statewide, and I can’t think of any.”

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For New Mexico, chile is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the center of the official state question—Red or green?—and is one of the state’s official vegetables.

New Mexico produced more than 60 percent of the U.S. chile pepper crop in 2021 and is home to Hatch, an agricultural village known as the Chile Capital of the World for the unique red and green peppers it has turned out for generations. The famous crop also is used in powders, sauces, and salsas that are shipped worldwide.

>> Learn more about New Mexico’s famed chiles

Worth Pondering…

If I had my way, I’d remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.

—Roald Dahl

UNESCO Celebrates 50 Years of Protecting the World’s Natural and Cultural Sites

You may have been to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States or Canada without knowing it. Remember that Griswoldian summer vacation to the Grand Canyon?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known by the acronym UNESCO, was founded in 1945. Twenty-seven years later, on November 16, 1972, the organization’s World Heritage Convention rolled out a plan to protect the globe’s most valuable natural and cultural sites. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the milestone, UNESCO recently held a gathering in Delphi, Greece to discuss the next half-century of conservation and promotion of the essential properties.

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

Since 1978, when UNESCO anointed its first dozen, 1,154 attractions in 167 countries have earned the distinction. Of those, 897 are cultural, 218 are natural, and 39 are a hybrid of both categories. Italy boasts the most with 58 and several countries claim one such as Fiji, Mozambique, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States and Canada are in the middle of the pack.

Related article: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Twenty-four sites are in the United States including Yellowstone National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the Statue of Liberty, and various buildings showcasing the iconic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Canada has 20 designated sites including Wood Buffalo National Park, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Historic District of Old Quebec, and Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World Heritage in numbers

There are currently 1,154 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

  • 897 cultural sites
  • 218 natural sites
  • 39 mixed sites (both cultural and natural)
  • 43 transboundary sites (straddling the territories of two or more countries
  • 52 sites are currently listed as being in danger
  • In 50 years, three sites have been removed from the World Heritage List
  • World Heritage sites are to be found in 167 countries
  • The World Heritage Convention has been ratified by 194 countries

UNESCO at 50: World Heritage sites to see across North America

On this golden anniversary, the best gift you can give is to go. Here are five UNESCO sites in the United States and two in Canada.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Est. 1995 | New Mexico

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: More than 119 limestone caves beneath the Chihuahuan Desert including Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave dazzle and delight with speleothems (for example, stalagmites and stalactites), sculptural reef and rock formations, gypsum chandeliers, and geologic features partly shaped by bacteria. The park also contains a section of the Capitan Reef from the Permian Age (299 to 251 million years ago), one of the world’s best-preserved and most accessible fossilized reefs. From April through mid-October, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats hang out in Carlsbad Cavern.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The park entrance is 20 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico and 150 miles eat of El Paso, Texas.

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Best time to visit: September, when the bats are still hanging around but the crowds aren’t.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insider tip: Between mid-April and late May stake out a spot at the Bat Flight Amphitheater and watch the winged creatures stream out of the cave in search of dinner. On the third Saturday in July, join other crack-of-dawn risers to witness their flight in reverse as they return home for a nap. From Memorial Day weekend through October, park rangers lead nightly bat programs at the outdoor venue.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Est. 1979 | Arizona

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: At 18 miles wide and a mile deep the Grand Canyon is a history book writ in rock. Its geologic layers tell a tale that goes back more than 1.8 billion years including the period 6 million years ago when the Colorado River first raised its carving knives. The landscape is a study in maximalism with a frozen lava flow, waterfalls, and a white-water river rushing through its veins.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The South Rim which is open year-round is about 80 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona and 212 miles from the North Rim. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily train service between Williams, Arizona and the park.

Best time to visit: Spring or fall when the wildlife is abundant, the crowds are thin, and the facilities on both rims are open. (Specifically, May 15-October 15 for the North Rim and year-round for the South Rim.)

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Insider tip: Native American artists such as Zuni stone carvers and a Hopi silversmith demonstrate their crafts and share their traditions at the Desert View Watchtower or South Rim Visitor Center depending on the season.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Est. 1983 | Tennessee and North Carolina

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The lush temperate zone is home to a wildly diverse assortment of plants, bugs and animals including 130 tree species, 65 mammal species (1,500 American black bears alone), more than 200 bird types, synchronous fireflies, and 30 salamander species. Hence, the park’s nickname, “Salamander Capital of the World.” The park extols the virtues of age: Many of the rocks were formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

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

How to reach it: The park straddles two states. Drive times from Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina are about 45 minutes (35 miles) and 50 minutes (37 miles), respectively.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best time to visit: Fall for its firework display of autumnal color or spring for its heavy dusting of wildflowers.

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

Insider tip: The park contains one of the finest collections of log buildings in the East with more than 90 barns, churches, schools, gristmills, and other historic structures. Pick up an auto tour guidebook because these old walls aren’t talking.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Est. 1978 | Colorado

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The ancestral Pueblo people left their mark on the Mesa Verde plateau with more than 5,000 archaeological site, including 600 cliff dwellings dating from A.D. 450 to 1300. The park is also a canvas for petroglyphs which are visible along the Petroglyph Point Trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The park entrance is 10 miles east of Cortez, Colorado and 35 miles west of Durango, Colorado

Best time to visit: May through mid-October when five cliff dwellings welcome guests inside their rock penthouses. Tour months vary by site, so plan strategically.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Mesa Verde National Park

Insider tip: If you are more of a hermit than a pack animal, hike up to Step House, the rare dwelling that does not require a guide.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions

Est. 2015 | Texas

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: In the early 1700s, Franciscan priests built Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), their first, to help Spain and the Catholic Church colonize, convert, and defend New Spain. Over the next 13 years, four more missions (Concepcion, San Juan, San Jose and Espada) sprouted up along a 10-mile stretch of the San Antonio River. The missions stir up the melting pot of influences from the colonial settlers, nomadic Coahuiltecans, and other indigenous hunter-and-gatherer groups who were integral to the early Texas settlement. The site also encompasses two acequia systems (irrigation ditches), laborers (farm fields), and Rancho de las Cabras, the estate in Floresville that supplied goats to Mission Espada.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The Alamo squats in the center of San Antonio; the other four missions are spaced about 2½ miles apart along Mission Road. Visitors can also access the sites by bike or foot on the Mission Hike and Bike Trail or partially by kayak on the San Antonio River.

Best time to visit: In the Texas spring (January to March) noted for its pleasant temperatures and shag carpets of bluebonnets.

Related article: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Insider tip: Praise the music at mariachi Mass, celebrated Sundays at San Jose.

Canadian Rocky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks

Est. 1984 | Alberta and British Columbia

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The contiguous national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho as well as the Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks studded with mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, and limestone caves form a striking mountain landscape. The Burgess Shale fossil site well known for its fossil remains of soft-bodied marine animals is also found there.

Canadian Rocky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The Canadian Rockies more or less form the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The roads here are amongst the most beautiful in the world. Much of the Rocky Mountains of Canada lie within various national and provincial parks.

Related article: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi

Est. 2019 | Alberta

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: A provincial park, Writing-on-Stone is located on the northern edge of the semi-arid Great Plains on the border between Canada and the U. S. Dominated by the Milk River Valley the landscape is characterized by a concentration of pillars or hoodoos—columns of rock sculpted by erosion into spectacular shapes. The Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksikáíítsitapi) left engravings and paintings on the sandstone walls of the Milk River Valley. This landscape is considered sacred to the Blackfoot people.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: Writing-on-Stone is 25 miles east of Milk River which is 12 miles north of the U.S. border and 50 miles southeast of Lethbridge, Alberta.

Related article: Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Worth Pondering…

The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.

—Loren Eiseley

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

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

The ultimate luxury in life remains nature.

—Robert Rabensteiner

After spending two decades at L’Uomo Vogue—the menswear counterpart to Vogue Italia—Robert Rabensteiner is now the fashion editor-at-large for Condé Nast’s Italian division. Part of his job is appraising runway collections in New York, Paris, London, and Milan, his primary residence. Yet some of his most cherished trips to a remote chalet near his hometown in the Austrian Alps are far less elaborate. Hidden deep in the forest, the chalet is only accessible by riding a chairlift and then taking a half-hour trek. When his mother died, Rabensteiner sought refuge in the house and, more so, it’s calm setting. With this quote, he speaks to a feeling shared by so many of us: that the connection to nature offers an unparalleled source of wonder, healing, and joy. 

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

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its unforgettable vista.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and new-school Hollywood iconography serving as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Place in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

For a minute there, it seemed like society’s obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ’50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena last year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.

All this time, a few towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians (or, did they?). In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. One of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial is Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

The country was whipped up into a frenzy and soon after the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. But, I’m still withholding judgment!

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.”

2022 is the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. It all comes down July 1-3. And it’s going to be the biggest, best UFO Festival yet!

Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For colors—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic highways. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is home to one of the world’s most unique geological wonders: the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Formed millions of years ago when a fault line shifted and exposed thousands of acres of rust-tinted sandstone and slate-gray shale, the resulting rugged cliffs and arch formations are the red rocks Utah is known for.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grab a cinnamon bun or freshly baked mini-pie in the historic village of Fruita located within the park’s borders then stroll through verdant orchards and hunt for petroglyphs near the visitor center. Hikers won’t want to miss the 1-mile jaunt up to Hickman Bridge nor the chance to squeeze through a narrow slot canyon in Cottonwood Wash. Stay in nearby Torrey for the best BBQ and wild-west themed hotels and RV parks.

Some roads in Capitol Reef National Park remain closed due to flash flooding that occurred last Thursday (June 23, 2022). Check with the Park Service as to the current status before visiting the park.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Newport Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is absolutely worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—Walter Winchell

Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Your Canada bucket list just got (a lot) longer…

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within Canada and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Rocky Mountain sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer in Western Canada include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit all seven of the Rocky Mountain Parks

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

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Snap postcard-worthy photos of Banff National Park

Explore pine forests, glacier-carved valleys, and snow-capped peaks in Alberta’s Banff National Park. 

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you Google “Canada nature,” you’ll see pictures of Banff National Park in the Rockies—and for good reason. Canada’s oldest and most popular national park is Mother Nature’s best. Anywhere you look, there are jagged peaks sprinkled with fluffy powder, bluer than blue glacial lakes, and majestic wildlife including bears (black and grizzly), elk, wolves, big horn sheep, and foxes.

Related: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being busy year-round, Banff is big enough that you can find something to do without being shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists (well, except perhaps if you’re waiting for that photo of Lake Louise).

Banff National Park is a hiker’s playground with more than 1,000 miles of trails. Following these trails up ridges leads to impressive viewpoints of craggy peaks, surprise waterfalls, and massive glaciers. The higher you go, the more you’ll see of the 1.6 million acres that make up the park.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Immerse yourself in nature at Jasper National Park

Jasper has been named one of the 30 best national parks across the globe. Outside, an online publication has included the picturesque spot on its list of must-see destinations. Jasper is the only Canadian entry.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of “wild and scenic.” It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff.

Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travellers to explore.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. A scenic drive of a lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Related: RV To Canada This Summer

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” is the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 90,000 acres in area and 100 to 360 feet in depth and receive up to 7 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Reach new peaks at Mount Robson Provincial Park

“On every side the snowy heads of mighty hills crowded round, whilst, immediately behind us, a giant among giants, and immeasurably supreme, rose Robson’s Peak.”

—Milton and Cheadle, 1865

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, is truly one of the Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Mount Robson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Alberta’s Jasper National Park as its easterly neighbor, Mount Robson Provincial Park comprises a portion of one of the world’s largest blocks of protected areas. Designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, Mount Robson provides everything from developed, vehicle-accessible camping to remote valleys that seldom see a human footprint. Mount Robson Provincial Park also protects the headwaters of the Fraser River.

First attempted in 1907, it was not until 1913 that humans finally stood on the summit of Mount Robson. On that clear, cold day guide Conrad Kain, W.W. Foster and A.H. McCarthy beheld a view no person had ever seen before.

Fort Langley National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Stand in the spot where BC began

Experience the excitement of the early West Coast fur trade at Fort Langley and stand in the spot where British Columbia was proclaimed a British colony in 1858. Explore the scenic fort—built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827—where fur traders once exchanged furs, salmon, and cranberries with Indigenous communities.

Fort Langley Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers interactive displays and activities. Watch blacksmithing, barrel-making, or historic weapons demonstrations, take a guided tour and pan for gold. Additional experiences include overnight stays in a furnished oTENTik, audio tours available in seven languages, and Sxwimelə Boutique and Gifts. There is also free parking on-site for visitors.

Fort Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Special events take place throughout the year such as Grave Tales walking tours, Brigade Days, Canada Day, the Cranberry Festival, Christmas events, and Vive les Voyageurs Winter Festival in January.

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is within walking distance of the Fort Langley Village where you can explore locally-owned shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and beautiful walking trails along the Fraser River.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 120-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Related: What you should know about Wine and Canada

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Lesser Slave Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel off the beaten path in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

As you dig your toes into warm, soft sand and watch the setting sun reflect off the glassy surface of the lake, you may feel like you are far away in some tropical locale. At nearly 450 sq mi, it isn’t hard to mistake Lesser Slave Lake for an ocean. Its white sand beaches are some of the finest in Alberta and when the west wind blows across the vast waters, you can get wave action big enough to surf on—though most people choose to ride the big breakers in kayaks.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique microclimate that encompasses the lake and rich habitat of the surrounding boreal forest has created a haven for nesting and migratory birds—particularly songbirds—which is why the area has been dubbed the continent’s bird nursery. Built to study them, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation are fascinating to visit. You’ll learn that nearly half of all North American bird species nest and raise their young here and billions of birds pass through during the spring and fall migrations. Tour the Boreal Centre and take a walk along the Songbird Trail pausing in the middle to stand quietly and listen to the natural symphony created by songbirds in the towering aspen-poplar forest.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Explore the natural wonders at Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This “island of conservation” is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island has several trails of varying lengths winding through the different habitats found within the park. Since the park is not mountainous, the trails have very few steep inclines. Each trail contains many wildlife viewing opportunities from two different subspecies of bison to a multitude of songbirds. Whether you’re out for a leisurely hike or a longer adventure, make your trip a safe one by checking the latest conditions.

Read Next: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Discover these UNESCO heritage sites on your next RV road trip

Even if you’ve explored Everglades National Park in Florida and caught glimpses of alligators, manatees, and other wildlife, or visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia where important chapters in the birth of the United States were written, did you know that they’re among 24 places throughout America honored as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization?

And, there are 20 World Heritage Sites in Canada and each one is special in its own way.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

UNESCO designates natural destinations and cultural attractions that are “of outstanding universal value” and meet one or more of 10 criteria. Among these are to exhibit “exceptional natural beauty,” provide habitats for threatened species, and be associated with events of “universal significance.”

Among diverse places on the list are East Africa’s Serengeti region, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the pyramids of Egypt, and great castles and cathedrals throughout Europe.

Mission San Juan (San Antonio Missions) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

UNESCO sites in the United States and Canada are equally varied. They range from alluring mountain parks to an ancient pueblo, from architectural treasures to cultural icons. You might like to use them as a wish list of places to visit in the future.

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

It’s no surprise that Everglades National Park is included on the UNESCO list. It’s the largest tropical wetlands and forest wilderness in the country, the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, and the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America. It’s also home to 36 threatened or protected species.

Related: 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites for RV Travel

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The setting is very different in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park which straddles the Rocky Mountains along the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s an area of soaring snow-capped mountains, high-altitude lakes, and rushing glacier-fed rivers where cedar hemlock forests and alpine tundra provide habitats for more than 300 species of animals. The park serves as a symbol of goodwill between Canada and the United States.

Mission Conception (San Antonio Missions) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 54 World Heritage Sites in North America and each one is special in its own way. But, which ones are worth the visit? To help you figure out which sites to see, we’ve ranked each World Heritage Site based on quality of experience, RV accessibility, “wow” factor, popularity, and significance in history and culture.

However, it’s impossible to say one is better than the other. So, in the end, we leave the decision up to you.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sprawling below the Chihuahuan Desert is an extensive cave system waiting to be discovered. Bats are the primary residents of this site which UNESCO recognizes for both its beauty and ongoing geologic activity that scientists can study. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico include some 100 limestone caves that form an otherworldly underground labyrinth.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One massive chamber, almost 4,000 feet long, is called the Big Room. Among names given to other caves are Kings Palace, Papoose Room, and Hall of the White Giant. The hundreds of thousands of bats that live in the caverns emerge around sunset to seek their evening meal. It’s also home to a section of the Capitan Reef, one of the world’s best-preserved and most accessible fossilized reefs.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your visit to Texas, expect to see a lot of missions—they’re everywhere, especially in San Antonio. First up was Mission San Antonio de Valero, also known as the Alamo which Franciscan priests built to help Spain and the Catholic Church colonize, convert, and defend New Spain. Over the next 13 years, four more missions were built along a 10-mile stretch of the San Antonio River, and together they make up an impressive UNESCO site.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo is impressive, but if you want to see the best mission, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio Missions—Mission San José. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San José attracted people from all over the area. The church was built in 1768 and is still standing today.

Related: Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

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

Tennessee and North Carolina share the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is home to the oldest mountains in the U.S. as well as over 3,500 plant and animal species. The park draws more visitors than any other national park in the country, and it’s not difficult to see why. Between rolling, mist-covered hills, crisscrossing trails, and expansive vistas, this gorgeous national park truly takes your breath away.

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

The best seasons to visit the park are autumn and spring when you’ll get a firework display of fall colors and a dense covering of wildflowers. Must-see spots include Mogo Falls, the park’s tallest waterfall and the peak of Mount Cammerer where you’ll be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park has been around for millions of years and is still going strong. The mile-deep canyon draws visitors from all over the planet to gaze into its depths, marveling at red and burnt orange rock formations and the carved work of the Colorado River. A visit to the park will awaken your spirit of the American Southwest as you learn about Native American culture and stand in awe of the canyon’s sheer magnificence.

The South Rim is open year-round, but to beat the crowds visit during the spring or fall when balmy temperatures offer a pleasant climate for activities like hiking and camping.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess exceptional natural beauty attracting millions of visitors annually.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From an extensive cave system and mile-deep canyon to an ancient pueblo and scenic splendor, UNESCO sites throughout the U.S. and Canada have varied and very intriguing stories to tell.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

The Sixth Wonder of Alberta

A wide green valley, steep sandstone cliffs, strange rock formations called hoodoos, and rock art—all of these things make Writing-on-Stone a special place

You’re driving through the prairie and suddenly it drops away into a beautiful river valley. Alberta has many beautiful places to explore during the summer but there’s only one place that has rock paintings from the local indigenous population that can be dated back 2,000 years ago.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That very special place is the Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park and is located near the U.S. border in southeastern Alberta. It is a place of extreme cultural importance to the Blackfoot people and has the greatest concentration of Indigenous rock art anywhere on the plains. The rock art was likely created by the Blackfoot tribe whose territory traditionally includes the area. At least some of the art was likely being made by the Shoshone tribe which passed through the region.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples have created rock art for millennia. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle critical phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans. In fact, the arrival of horses, trade items, and even the first automobile in the region are creatively recorded.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a combination of culturally significant landforms, rock art, archaeological heritage, and dramatic views, Áísínai’pi (“it is pictured/written”) is a sacred place for the Blackfoot people. In Blackfoot traditions, Sacred Beings dwell among the cliffs and hoodoos, and the voices of the ancestors can be heard among the canyons and cliffs. To this day the Blackfoot feel the energy of the Sacred Beings at Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi and their oral histories and ongoing ceremonial use attest to the living traditions of the Blackfoot people.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following more than a decade of advocacy by Indigenous groups and the provincial government, Writing-on Stone was recently (July 6) declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nomination was prepared by the provincial government in partnership with the Blackfoot Confederacy and with ongoing support from the Government of Canada.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is home to more petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) than any other place on the Great Plains in North America.

“Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi is the site of many natural wonders and a testament to the remarkable ingenuity and creativity of the Blackfoot people,” Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, said in a news release. “It’s easy to see why the site is seen by many as an expression of the confluence of the spirit and human worlds. I hope all Albertans will take the time to explore this extraordinary part of the province and all it has to offer.”

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The designation of Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi as a UNESCO World Heritage Site provides the Blackfoot Confederacy a basis for its future generations as to the strength and truth of our continuing relationship to this land and to our traditions, ceremonies, and cultural practices,” Martin Heavy Head, an elder with the Mookaakin Cultural and Heritage Society, said in a news release.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone is about 4,400 acres and offers unique hiking and birding opportunities, plus a modestly-sized campground. The province estimates about 60,000 people visit the site each year.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 1.3-mile Hoodoo Trail winds through various landscapes—hoodoos, sandstone cliffs, and rock art, upland prairie grasslands, the Milk River valley, and coulees. Most rock art sites are only accessible by guided tour. Park interpreters lead tours into the Archeological Preserve daily from mid-May to early September. Tour schedules and ticket prices are available by contacting the park’s visitor center.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone is Alberta’s sixth world heritage site. The other five are Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (1981), Dinosaur Provincial Park (1979), Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1995), The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (1984, 1990), and the Wood Buffalo National Park (1983).

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So if you’re a fan of exploration these are the six must see sites within Alberta.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes