It’s not that I don’t enjoy a ramblin’-down-the-road RV trip, but, once I get where I’m
going, I want to see the area’s natural wonders up close and personal. And what better way than to lace up the hiking shoes and hit the trails?
As a self-confessed hiking nut, I’ve trekked in the Peruvian Andes, clammered around Baja California’s offshore islands and strolled along England’s country footpaths, but, for variety, nothing beats the United States. Somewhere in its vastness there is almost every conceivable type of natural wonder – deserts, oceans, canyons, mountain peaks … you name it.
Places to hike are usually limited only by the imagination. I live in Los Angeles. “Good luck,” you say? Not so, there are trails galore in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Hollywood Hills and the San Gabriel Mountains – and don’t forget the beach.
Thousands of miles of hiking trails suited to every ability are scattered from coast to coast. National parks are beautiful, but they can be crowded, especially in peak season. By getting out of your trailer and getting out on the trails, you avoid the biggest crowds and see the park in a different light.
Alaska is a wonderland of wilderness areas that offer spectacular hiking opportunities, but it doesn’t get much better than Denali National Park and Preserve – six million acres of subarctic wilderness surround the great 20,320-foot-high Mount McKinley. Within the park’s boundaries are 37 species of mammals, including moose, caribou and brown bears.
Hiking is definitely the best way to enjoy the park. Though there are a few marked trails that start at the park’s entrance, the best hiking is done across open terrain, off trail. This is possible because of the scant tree growth at lower altitudes and rolling carpets of dwarfed shrubs and wildflowers or, at higher elevations, tundra.
There are three campgrounds in the park with RV sites: Riley Creek, Savage River and Teklanika River (for reservations to all three, call 800-622-7275). There are also campgrounds a short drive from the entrance, such as Denali Grizzly Bear Resort (866-583-2696, www.denaligrizzlybear.com). Family-owned and operated since 1968, there
are plenty of amenities, including a general store and tour desk and, though there are no
sewer hookups, a dump station is on site.
In the Pacific Northwest, I particularly like Washington state’s Olympic National Park, with its impressive variety of ecosystems. Within the park’s boundaries are the finest remnants of the Pacific Northwest rain forest, active glaciers, deep valleys, lush meadows and 73 miles of wild, dramatic, rocky ocean shoreline.
In the hiking department, Olympic Park is a something-for-everyone kind of place. Hikes in
the park can vary from totally level beach walks to mountain climbs that would paralyze the acrophobic.
A good place to camp while hiking in the park is the Forks 101 RV Park
(800-962-9964), where sites are surrounded by flower beds and shade trees. It’s just a short drive to the Hoh Rain Forest, an area of the park that gets up to 12 feet of rain a year. For a quick leg stretch and a chance to see some spectacular rainforest scenery, take the two short nature hikes that start from the visitor center: the Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail.
In the Southwest, you can’t ignore the lure of the Grand Canyon, yet most folks only see it from designated viewing areas. For a real look at one of the world’s most spectacular gorges, nothing beats a hike.
The North and South Rims of the canyon have plenty of hiking opportunities, but the North Rim is wilder and less-traveled. Hikers in the canyon have three options: they can hike on
maintained trails, non-maintained trails or routes, which provide myriad options for hikers
of all abilities. Spring and fall offer the best hiking conditions as the inner canyon is very hot during the summer.
For a day hike on the South Rim, consider avoiding the usually jam-packed Bright Angel Trail, and try the steep and dry but scenic 6-mile round-trip to Horseshoe Mesa. This hike is recommended for experienced desert hikers. Overnight backpacking requires permits in advance, which can be obtained through the Backcountry Information Center (928-638-7875).
At the canyon’s South Rim, Mather Campground (877-444-6777 for reservations) has RV sites (maximum length 30 feet), but no hookups, while the adjacent Trailer Village (888-297-2757) has sites with hook-ups. Desert View Campground (no reservations accepted), 26 miles from Grand Canyon Village, is more remote and primitive, offering only dry sites.
No doubt about it, Utah’s Bryce Canyon is stunning. With its rosy-hued, sandcastle-type formations or hoodoos, natural bridges and amphitheaters, it is one of the country’s most photogenic national parks.
There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails in Bryce, ranging in elevation from 6,500 to 9,100 feet. Hiking alongside towering hoodoos in fantastic shapes is like being in a geological fairyland. The Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop is a moderately strenuous trail beginning at Sunrise Point and includes Wall Street, where hikers are dwarfed by soaring red walls and some enormous Douglas fir trees. Be sure to wear your hiking boots!
Ruby’s Inn and RV Park and Campground (866-866 6616, www.brycecanyoncampgrounds.com) has just about anything you could want
and is less than a mile from the park. Pine-shaded sites have full hookups, and the
campground has a pool, a hot tub, a camper’s store, a general store, a laundromat and a
Montana’s Glacier National Park’s mountains punctuate the achingly clear blue sky. Meadows and grassland are dotted with glacial lakes, and the hiking is top-notch.
There are almost 50 glaciers in the park and hiking is the way to see the most impressive
of the bunch, as well as the many waterfalls and even, perhaps, an iceberg or two. A lovely
day hike, with options for different abilities, is the Iceberg Lake hike. Besides stunning
vistas and fields full of wildflowers, you’re likely to see the lake’s group of icebergs
well into the summer months.
To follow part of the Continental Divide on foot, head for the Highline Trail, which begins at Logan Pass. Though the trail goes for 20 miles, day hikers can connect with the Loop Trail and make it back to the RV before sundown.
Glacier has a number of RV campgrounds sprinkled throughout the park, with the biggest being Apgar (first-come, first-served), Fish Creek and St. Mary (877-444-6777 for reservations). Probably the best bet is to decide where you’re going to hike and then book the campground that’s the most convenient.
Yellowstone National Park has more than 1,100 miles of hiking trails, and there’s literally something for everyone.
Its geyser activity – most particularly the world-famous Old Faithful – helps to make this park unique. But instead of returning to the trailer after watching the eruption, head off on the Upper Geyser Basin trails and see what other type of thermal activity there is in the park. These trails, which start at the Old Faithful Visitors Center, are easy enough for even the most reluctant hiker.
Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon area is laced with hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous. Experienced hikers looking for a workout and some fabulous views might consider the 11-mile-roundtrip Observation Peak route. After hiking to Cascade Lake,
it’s a 3-mile, 1,400-foot climb up to a peak that offers panoramic views of Yellowstone’s
If you’re planning on staying in your RV in the park, be sure to make reservations early because the only campground that offers full hookups is Fishing Bridge
RV Park (307-344-7901 same-day reservations; 307-344-7311 future reservations). If the
park’s campground is full, you should consider staying at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park
(406-646-4466, www.grizzlyrv.com) or the KOA at the west entrance (800-562-7591, www.yellowstonekoa.com).
In Texas, Big Bend National Park’s Chihuahuan Desert, Chisos Mountains and spectacular canyons and jungle-like floodplain of the Rio Grande make for startling contrasts within the park’s 800,000-plus acres. And where hiking is concerned, you’ll find more than 200 miles of trails winding through park.
For spectacular sunset views, hike down the Window View Trail, which makes a 1/3-mile loop starting at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and is the most popular and easily hiked trail. The trail provides excellent views of the surrounding mountains, including a V-shaped notch known as the Window that frames the sunset during certain times of the year.
Westward-facing benches along the way encourage visitors to sit and enjoy the view.
For a more challenging hike, the Window Trail provides a 4-mile roundtrip trek that descends 800 feet from the trailhead and leads to the “window,” the pour-off that drains the entire Chisos Basin. Along the trail, it’s not unusual to see a javelina (shortsighted wild
pig-like animals), a gray fox or maybe even a black bear grazing just off the path.
The National Park Service maintains three campgrounds within the park; generators are allowed at two of them during certain hours. A concessionaire also operates a full hook-up
campground at Rio Grande Village (432-477-2293).
In North Carolina, there’s a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains that’s lush, lovely and liberally laced with hiking trails.
Waterfalls cascade down rocky slopes and panoramas offer seemingly endless views of hazy bluish mountains.
For an active break from driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stop at the Linville Falls parking lot and set off for the falls. The moderately difficult 1 1/2-mile roundtrip hike to Erwin’s View wanders through a thick evergreen forest on the way to various falls overlooks.
For a longer hike amongst some lovely scenery try the 5-mile Boone Fork Trail loop, which will call to water lovers because of its waterfalls, cascades and pools. It also passes through a rhododendron grove that is spectacular in the spring. And the nearby short, steep trail up to Green Knob offers fine views and grassy meadows.
For a convenient place to park your trailer, head for the Julian Price Park Campground
(877-444-6777), near the Moses Cone Estate and the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock.
Adjacent to Price Lake, canoe and rowboat rentals are available in the summer, and there
are trails and trailheads right within the campground.
Lush forests, ribbons of shimmering streams and dramatic mountain peaks make the White Mountain National Forest area of New Hampshire one of the country’s loveliest.
Hikers of all abilities can enjoy the area’s trails, including part of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
While experienced hikers might want to try climbing Mount Washington, the area’s highest peak at 6,288 feet, an alternative is the 4-mile round-trip hike leaving from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center up to “Lowe’s Bald Spot.” There are some steeper sections on this hike, but all are moderate and the steepest are eased with stone stairs, plus the hike offers superb panoramas. The path crosses several streams, so hikers need to be prepared for possible high water.
One of the largest campgrounds in the National Forest System, Dolly Copp
Campground offers campsites with picnic tables, fire rings, toilets and drinking water
on-site. The campground does not have any hookups, dump stations or showers, but the nearby Pinkham Notch Visitor Center has coin-operated showers.
The award-winning Twin Mountain KOA (603-846-5559, www.koa.com) is smack in
the center of the White Mountains, not far from Mount Washington. All the full-hookup sites
have picnic tables and fire rings, and in the summer months the campground hosts special
events, such as pancake breakfasts and ice-cream socials.
Not only is hiking a great way to see America’s natural wonders, it’s a way to stay in shape and escape the crowds. So next time you’re breezing through a scenic area or national park, park the tow vehicle and take a hike.
Denali National Park & Preserve, (907) 683-2294, www.nps.gov
Olympic National Park, (360) 565-3130, www.nps.gov
Grand Canyon National Park, (928) 638-7888, www.nps.gov
Bryce Canyon National Park, (435) 834-5322 , www.nps.gov/
Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800, www.nps.gov
Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381, www.nps.gov.
Big Bend National Park, (432) 477-2251, www.nps.gov
Blue Ridge Parkway, (828) 271-4779, www.nps.gov/
White Mountain National Forest, (603) 528-8721, www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/ white_mountain.