7 Family Summer Destinations in Southwestern Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, 10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab and 6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah (Bluff) we covered locations in southeastern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in southwestern Utah that lie west of the Colorado River. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

No matter which of these amazing places you choose to visit, don’t miss getting to know some of the local residents, guides, rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Visitor Center and Campground

The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center has some interesting educational displays on the formation of Bryce and the area’s wildlife.

Ruby’s Inn Campground offers 250 shady and open campsites for RVs. All sites have electric and water, or full hook-ups as well as a large pull-through area for the driver’s ease and comfort.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Trail

Bryce Canyon from the rim trail may not offer a lot of solitude but the views are breathtaking.
You can do a great job of imitating a professional photographer at dusk or dawn from either Sunset or Sunrise Points respectively. Now that is some logical location naming.

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

Bryce Canyon National Park – Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

One of the best ways to get the most of Bryce Canyon is to get down into the rocks by combining the first leg of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. This relatively moderate three-mile combination loop starts at Sunset Point and ends at Sunrise Point, which are quite close to each other. Whatever you do, take the time to walk down to Wall Street. The trail down may look intimidating but the number of switchbacks makes it pretty easy.

Cedar Breaks National Monument 

At an elevation of 10,350 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks National Monument is the highest national park in Utah. This park is renowned for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin.

Park facilities include 30 campsites, a five-mile scenic drive, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The visitor center which stands next to the amphitheater is open from Memorial Day to mid-October.

ion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic drive has four pullouts for gazing deep into its interior. North View overlook faces south. Chessman Ridge and Sunset View overlooks both have views to the west, and Point Supreme has the only viewpoint that looks due north.

Zion National Park – Visitors Center

Zion National Park is full of easy options to take in some beautiful nature. Zion is so striking and unique it’s fun to just be in the canyon and look—everywhere.
After learning a bit about the park, develop a plan of attack at the Visitor Center and then take the shuttle bus into the park. There are suitable kids’ trails at nearly every stop.
Plan your camping well in advance. The two campgrounds in the park fill up fast.
Zion National Park – Emerald Pools Trails

The Emerald Pools Trails are perfect for kids—not too long, not too steep with a fun playful payoff at your destination.
The vegetation surrounding the sparkling pools and glistening waterfalls is almost tropical it’s so lush. It also stays pretty cool on a hot day. You’ll have fun hopping rocks to cross the stream and pool edges.

The trailhead is across the highway from Zion Lodge

Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park – Kolob Canyons

Heading north from St. George on Interstate 15 take exit 40 and drive the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Kolob Canyons. The short scenic drive ascends 1,100 feet, showcasing deep reddish-orange cliffs, protruding abruptly from the ground. The road terminates at Timber Creek Overlook. Stop at the Visitor Center and pick up a brochure that explains the 14 numbered stops along the drive. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.
—Eric Hansen

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Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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4 Best National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. In an earlier post, Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers. Following are the four best national parks for RVers.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.

The 801,000-acre park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and two Mexican states. But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars. The park bisects one of North America’s most significant deserts, the Chihuahuan, creating an abundance of variety.

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas and actual living accommodations take the 15-minute hike from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House. If you would like to explore Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House guided by a ranger, stop by the Far View Visitor Center for information and tour tickets.

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup sites, reservations are a must.

Zion National Park, Utah

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow the paths where ancient native people and Mormon pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Catch a shuttle for Zion Canyon, the only vehicular means by which you can access this gorgeous area in the summer. And as you progress, soak up the splendor offered by the Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava with their secluded hiking trails.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Situated at 7,890 feet above sea level, the Lava Point Campground (6 primitive sites) is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon.

There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Private RV parks are also available near the park’s entrances.

Death Valley National Park, California

Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley offers six campgrounds suitable for most RVs: Furnace Creek (136 sites, a few full hookups), Stovepipe Wells Village (190 sites; 19 full hookups), Sunset (270 non-hookup sites), Texas Spring (92 non-hookup sites), Mesquite Spring (30 non-hookup sites), and Widrose (23 non-hookup sites). A high-clearance vehicle is required to access Thorndike (6 non-hookup sites; 7,400-foot elevation) and Mahogany Flat (10 non-hookup sites; 8,200-foot elevation).

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

The US National Park Service is investigating a woman who recently traveled from New York to a series of Western states in order to paint unsightly drivel all over a number of America’s most pristine and most iconic national parks.

Overlooking Crater Lake National Park
Overlooking Crater Lake National Park

National Park Service investigators have confirmed that images were painted on rocks or boulders in Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah; Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park, all in California; Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado; and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Casey Nocket, 21, is responsible for this wave of vandalism and the primary suspect in the criminal investigation. She proudly documented her trail of painting vandalism and defended her brazen defacements on her “Creepytings” Instagram page—which should make the eventual raft of felony vandalism charges easier.

Nocket also has a “Creepytings” Tumblr page where she also defended her shockingly bad national park doodles.

“It’s art, not vandalism,” she insisted. “I am an artist.”

She also compared her renderings to the work of Banksy, the English graffiti artist and political activist. And she claimed the mantle of feminism.

“Most people are respectful but graffiti is a growing problem. There’s a difference between art and vandalism,” said Aly Baltrus, spokeswoman for Zion National Park.

Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?
Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

In general, graffiti in national parks is a growing problem, said David Nimkin, senior regional director for the National Park Conservation Association, southwest region.

“I have a hard time believing that she (Nocket) didn’t realize what she was doing was wrong. I think she clearly had a different agenda,” Nimkin said.

Nocket admits to knowing that what she is doing is wrong in a Facebook message saying that she knows she is a bad person.

Investigators continue to collect evidence, conduct interviews, and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about potential charges. They ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward, according to a statement written by National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.

Prior to the Park Service’s investigation, some of Nocket’s paintings were removed. The image found in Rocky Mountain National Park was reported to the park and then removed late September before similar images were found in the other national parks, according to the statement. Ice and snow have covered the image at Crater Lake National Park, and it may not be accessible for assessment and clean up until next summer. An image in Yosemite National Park was removed by an unknown person or persons.

While authorities could not discuss details of this case, they did stress the seriousness of vandalism in a released statement:

Death Valley vandalism
Death Valley vandalism

“There are forums for artistic expression in national parks because national parks inspire artistic creativity. These images are outside that forum and outside the law.”

One of the reasons national parks have been designated is to preserve and protect the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage for both current and future generations. Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.

“It’s not like we have a slush fund to go and clean up vandalism,” a national parks said.

“Dealing with this means we’re not doing something else.”

Creepytings Nocket must  be held accountable and punished to a reasonable extent of the law―and banned from all US National Park Service sites. She needs to be fined and do some community service and she definitely needs to realize the consequences of her actions.

But more importantly, I hope that everyone who’s as outraged about this senseless act of vandalism as I am can take that rage and turn it into something positive. Find a park you care about and volunteer some time to help clean up or maintain trails. Donate to a conservancy.

Or better yet, find someone who doesn’t understand what the big deal is about this and take them outside, show them what a little time in the wilderness can do, and let them find out for themselves.

Worth Pondering…

Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.

―John Wayne

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin (Death Valley National Park) for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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National Parks Best Seen in Spring

Spring feels like a new beginning as nature bursts with life, plants are in bloom, and everyone becomes a little more eager to get out and explore the great outdoors.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better way to experience nature than in one of our magnificent national parks.

Following are four national parks that are tops for replenishing your get-up-and-go and best visited in spring, each offering a wonderful array of seasonal experiences.

So venture forth now and you’ll avoid the hordes of summer vacationers!

Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is a stunning park no matter what the season. But spring takes its grand appearance to new levels.

When you first see Zion, it’s hard not to be blown away by the massive canyon walls that seem to stretch for miles into the sky. And visitors are encouraged to explore those canyons, sandstone cliffs, and rugged trails in order to truly appreciate the park’s beauty.

What makes this park really pop in the springtime is the chance to see canyon walls covered in hanging gardens of wildflowers.

Easily one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes on the planet, Zion National Park’s cooler spring temperatures make for more pleasurable hiking along its many trails. Spring visitors to Zion enjoy fewer crowds, spectacular high-volume waterfalls courtesy of the snow melt, and rare glimpses of green contrasting against the sun-drenched orange rock.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park 

Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves.
Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, springtime offers an opportunity for a first trip of the year. And if you are just getting back out there, the last thing you want is a crowded park. This spring, avoid the crowds and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a unique and exciting adventure.

At this southern New Mexico national treasure visitors explore a world over 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Giant rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes. Visitors can experience famous cave rooms full of fissures and tunnels. Guided tours will inform about rock formation, cave exploration, and the animals who can survive at such deep depths.

Spring is a great time to visit Carlsbad Caverns as the bat population makes its presence known.

Arches National Park 

With the highest density of natural stone arches in the world (more than 2,000 of them), and driving through Arches National Park is a surreal experience. In April and May, and even early to mid June, you’re likely to have it mostly to yourself. Temperatures are a mild 65-75 degrees, and the La Sal Mountains are still snow-capped, which makes for startling photos of the orange sandstone arches and clear blue sky.

Stargazing in and around Arches is world-class thanks to minimal light pollution. In spring, the sky is particularly clear.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When viewed from afar, Joshua Tree National Park seems like long stretch of quiet desert. In fact, many first time visitors are surprised to find that the park is full of vitality. While the park is full of history and amazing geology, springtime brings out the best of the best.

During March and April, the trees that gave the park its name begin to bloom with their large, creamy flowers. The rest of the park follows with annual flowers popping up along all elevations. Once May and June roll around, the cacti are bursting with bright flowers. Joshua Tree National Park quickly becomes a desert in bloom.

Springtime brings numerous birds into the area, many in transient or getting ready to nest. For birds, Joshua Tree offers a relaxing warm home, away from the harsh weathers during migration.

So what’s not to love? Perfect temperatures, bird watching, and a desert land of wildflowers in bloom. Sounds pretty awesome.

Worth Pondering…

The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.
―Amy Seidl, Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

The economic benefits for communities located near national parks and other recreation and scenic hot spots are significant—as long as access to those areas is preserved.

After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012.

The report, “2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States and the Nation,” reviewed the National Park Service’s 141 units across the country and analyzed the effects of tourism.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz for the Park Service.

Across the country, the report showed $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

Nationally, spending by visitors in gateway communities near national parks included 30 percent on hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast outlets; 20 percent in restaurants and bars; 12 percent on gas and oil; 10 percent for admission and fees; 10 percent on souvenirs and other expenses; 7 percent on local transportation and 2 percent on camping fees.

Across the country, the National Park System units cover a total of more than 84 million acres.

Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan’s four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.

The report revealed that visitors spent more than $4.6 million while visiting two national parks in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument had 83,788 visitors and supported 65 jobs.

Aztec Ruins had nearly 45,000 visitors who spent about $2.4 million, while Chaco Culture had about 39,000 visitors who spent about $2.25 million in 2012, according to the report.

Also in the Four Corners area, Mesa Verde National Park had about 488,000 total visitors who spent $46.7 million. The spending helped support 645 jobs in the area.

In California, Death Valley National Park hosted nearly 1 million visitors, Yosemite National Park saw more than 3 million visitors and Devil’s Postpile National Monument hosted 90,000 visitors in 2012.

The Death Valley report states that those visitors spent an estimated $78 million, supporting 929 jobs in communities surrounding the park, such as Lone Pine, Olancha, Shoshone, and Tecopa.

The Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years.

A separate report indicates that the 2013 numbers tell a different story due in part to the 16-day government shutdown in October.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the 10th-most visited property in the National Park Service, according to NPS 2013 visitation figures for America’s national parks.

Visitation is down in the recreation area, from 4.9 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2013.

The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exact numbers — 4,970,802 in 2012 and 4,843,350 in 2013 — reflect a decrease of 127,452 visitors.

Nationally, the number of recreational visits to national parks in 2013 was 273 million, which was 9.1 million less than 2012 visitations.

“The shutdown reduced our visitation for the year by more than 5 million visitors who were turned away during those two weeks. These closures had a real impact on local businesses and communities that rely on the national parks as important drivers for their local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.

Top 10 Most Visited Places in the National Park System

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 14,289,121

Blue Ridge Parkway: 12,877,368

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,360,392

Lincoln Memorial: 6,546,518

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 6,344,714

Gateway National Recreation Area: 6,191,246

Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,012,740

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 4,941,367

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4,843,350

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

Grand Canyon National Park: 4,564,840

Yosemite National Park: 3,691,191

Yellowstone National Park: 3,188,030

Olympic National Park: 3,085,340

Rocky Mountain National Park: 2,991,141

Zion National Park: 2,807,387

Grand Teton National Park: 2,688,794

Acadia National Park: 2,254,922

Glacier National Park: 2,190,374

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner

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National Parks Lose $76M Per Day During Government Shutdown

The partial government shutdown’s toll on national parks can be measured in lost visitors, lost spending, and lost revenue to the US federal government.

When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park's namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park’s namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost revenue to the federal government, in the form of entrance fees and rentals equals $450,000 a day, according to a USA Today special report.

As the government shutdown enters its 11th day, more than 7 million Americans have been kept out of national parks and $750 million in visitor spending has been lost, with huge repercussions for the economies of gateway communities and entire states that depend on national park tourism.

BY THE NUMBERS: THE SHUTDOWN

715,000: Average number of National Park visitors each day in October 2012

$76 million: Amount local economies lose per day from people not visiting national parks, based on October 2012 data

$450,000: Lost revenue per day from entrance fees ($300,000) and in-park activities, such as campground fees and boat rentals ($150,000) at national parks

11: Number of days parks have been closed

These numbers were compiled by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) and are based on October 2012 government park attendance data and an analysis of economic impacts by Headwaters Economics.

“These figures are mind-boggling, and they only begin to capture the full economic shock of the shutdown,” said Maureen Finnerty, CNPSR Chair and former superintendent of Everglades and Olympic National Parks.

“And it’s not just federal employees and visitors feeling the pain. Often, national parks support hundreds of hospitality jobs in surrounding communities.”

Almost 87% of the National Park Service’s 24,645 employees have been sent home during the shutdown, which started October 1 when Congress failed to enact a spending bill.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The following is CNPSR-gathered data for the lost visitors, visitor spending, and jobs at risk for 12 leading national parks across the United States:

Acadia National Park (Maine): 68,493 lost visitors in first 10 days, $5,263,013 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 3331 total jobs at stake, including 3147 local/non-NPS jobs.

Badlands National Park (South Dakota): 26,767 lost visitors in first 10 days, $656,986 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 475 total jobs at stake, including 375 local/non-NPS jobs.

Boston National Historic Park (Massachusetts): 54,794 lost visitors in first 10 days, $2,032,876 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1019 total jobs at stake, including 904 non-NPS jobs.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio): 68,219 lost visitors in first 10 days, $1,545,205 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 819 total jobs at stake, including 599 local/non-NPS jobs.

Everglades National Park (Florida): 25,083 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,857,534 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 2364 total jobs at stake, including 1951 local/non-NPS jobs.

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania): 27,397 lost visitors in first 10 days, $1,796,712 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1141 total jobs at stake, including 1051 local/non-NPS jobs.

Glacier National Park (Montana): 60,273 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,076,712 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1994 total jobs at stake, including 1632 local/non-NPS jobs.

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 120,000 lost visitors in first 10 days, $11,750,684 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 6825 total jobs at stake, including 6167 local/non-NPS jobs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee): 257,534 lost visitors in first 10 days, $23,123,287 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 11,766 total jobs at stake, including 11,367 local/non-NPS jobs.

Olympic National Park (Washington): 77,808 lost visitors in first 10 days, $2,912,328 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1673 total jobs at stake, including 1395 local/non-NPS jobs.

Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): 80,821 lost visitors in first 10 days, $4,821,917 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 3033 total jobs at stake, including 2641 local/non-NPS jobs.

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho): 98,630 lost visitors in first 10 days, $9,452,054 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 5572 total jobs at stake, including 4481 local/non-NPS jobs.

Yosemite National Park (California): 106,849 lost visitors in first 10 days, $10,021,917 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 5607 total jobs at stake, including 4602 local/non-NPS jobs.

Zion National Park (Utah): 72,876 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,495,890 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 2401 total jobs at stake, including 2136 local/non-NPS jobs.

A note on data: Visitation, economic impacts, and job numbers for the 12 parks are drawn from Headwaters Economics, Land and Communities, National Parks Service Units, Economic Impacts of Visitation and Expenditures. Top line numbers for NPS daily visitation provided by Coalition of National Park Service Retirees using National Park Service data.

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Camping in America’s national parks allows a visitor to more fully appreciate the beauty of America’s natural treasures.

If you’re in search of a camper’s delight, these are the best national parks for you.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

One of the nation’s premiere camping destinations, the park offers four different types of campsites: backcountry, frontcountry, group campgrounds, and horse camps. Perfect for families, the camp’s 10 frontcountry campground locations are developed sites that accommodate tents, RVs, or pop-up trailers.

The National Park Service maintains developed frontcountry campgrounds at 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, and Smokemont.

Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park.

Maximum RV length varies with the campground.
Reservations are available for campsites at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Advance reservations are required at Cataloochee Campground. All remaining park campgrounds are first-come, first-served.

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Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is known for its incredible canyons and spectacular views. With its massive sandstone cliffs that range from light cream to deep red in color, driving or hiking through Zion is visually stunning.

With nearly three million visitors per year, Zion is Utah’s most heavily used park. Most park facilities are located in the Zion Canyon area, and it attracts the most visitors.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon near the south entrance at Springdale. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons.

During June, July, and August, the campgrounds are full every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground are recommended.

Generators are not permitted at Watchman Campground, but 95 campsites have electrical hookups. There are no full-hookup campsites; a dump station is available for campers.

South Campground offers 127 campsites available first-come, first-served. There are no hook-ups; a dump station is available for campers. Generators are allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park is a jewel in America’s national park system. Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.

Advance campground reservations can be made for two of the three National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park: Mather Campground on the South Rim (in Grand Canyon village) and the North Rim Campground. The NPS campgrounds do not have RV hook-ups.

The NPS Desert View Campground, on the South Rim of the park, and 25 miles the east of Grand Canyon Village, is first-come, first-served only. No reservations are accepted.

There is only one RV campground within the park with full hook-ups. It is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Trailer Village is a concessioner operated RV park with full hook-ups. Reservations are recommended.

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Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series

Part 1: Top 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 3: 10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
— John Muir

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