Our Favorite State and National Parks (so far)
Driving to Colorado October 2018
Hey y'all! Today we are gonna go over some of our favorite State Parks and National Parks we have visited and love so much! You can get your National Park Pass for the year for $80. Each state park has a pass of its own, I will list those prices as we talk about each park. We love all kinds of camping and different terrain. We enjoy it when we can incorporate some of our hobbies into a park visit. I'm not listing them in an order of favorites, because we love them all, each has a different place in our heart, so I will list them randomly and tell you what we have found about each location. The kids are gonna throw their prospective in a little too, so hold on to your saddle and let’s ride!
Padre Island National Seashore
I'm sure by now y'all have seen my Planning for a Beach Camping Trip, Camping at Padre Island National Seashore posts, and the video. We absolutely love coming to the gulf and camping, fishing, surfing, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views and sounds the ocean gives us.
Here are a few things we love:
- You can drive North Padre South Beach 60 miles. You will need 4WD past the 5 mile mark. Please read the warning signs and follow park rules. It is a state highway, so road rules apply. There is a speed limit and Northbound has the right of way. Vehicles must be street legal and licensed. Prepare well, some people may need to carry extra gas, etc. Driving in the sand uses more fuel than normal, and you have to f=drive the 60 miles back. Mansfield Channel is a manmade cut that prevents you from driving to South Padre.
- Primitive camping! You can go find your own spot and set up an awesome camp. It's free (besides your National Park Pass of course) and you can stay for up to 14 days. You pick any spot that works for you and set up camp near the dunes. Watch the tide calendar so you know how to pick the perfect camp spot. We go completely self-sufficient, but for those that don't want to bring everything or don't know how to primitive camp, don’t go too far down the island and you can easily come back up to the Malaquite Visitor Center for showers, bathrooms, and a general store. Check out their website for the store hours. This makes for a fun inexpensive vacation y'all.
- Fishing on the island can be a while new experience! You can fish Laguna Madre, Yarborough Pass, Surf fish right from camp, or drive down to the cut for a day trip and fish from the jetty. Depending on your skill and setup, you can catch saltwater catfish to sharks.
- Surfing is a staple activity on the island. There are many surf shops, and you can rent a board foe $35 for the day if you are new or can't bring your own board.
- The wildlife is entertaining. The seagulls have so much personality and the sand crabs at night are so funny to watch. Just watch out for Man-O-Wars y'all. We have been there where there aren't any and we have been there when the beach it littered with them.
Hot Springs National Park
There is anything you can think of here. Jeeping, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, hiking, the list goes on! There are creeks and lakes. There are many lakes actually. Lake Ouachita is beautiful and has camping at the state park. We like camping at the state park and at the Brady Mountain side off Highway 270, they are different areas of the lake for different times of the year. We like to camp at the national park side (see Ouachita National Forest below) during the winter months and Brady Mountain during the summer months.
The Brady Mountain side of Lake Ouachita is nice because if you camp in certain areas, you can dock your boat right up to camp. The water is clean and there is much to do! There are miles upon miles of boating, many islands you can spend the day on or camp on, and if you snorkel there is so much to explore.
Downtown Hot Springs is Bathhouse Row. The Fordyce Bathhouse was once in my family long ago, but my relative left it to the state when he passed. It's neat to explore and has a museum area. There are still bathhouses that are open, and Superior Bathhouse has a brewery. The food is good, and the beer is even better. On the opposite side of the road is shopping, wine tasting, and so much more.
The Royal Gorge is a beautiful spot too. You can camp, hike, play in the creek, or cookout for the day. There is a little swimming hole, you can fish, and next to the swimming hole is some shallow water you can catch crawdads in.
If you need a place to stay while you’re in the National Park area, check out Fox Pass Cabins y'all! They have unique adorable comfortable places to stay! It's not just cabins, they have a teepee and a wagon y'all can stay in too! Check out their website here. You won't regret it!
There is so much more to explore and tell you about, but we better move on!
Meridian State Park
This Texas state park has beautiful views, great hiking and biking, and much more! We had a group here and we camped at the cross timbers campground spaces 5, 7, and 2. It was perfect! This area of Texas is so pretty and there is great shopping in Hico and Dublin with a lot of history to enjoy. It's also not too far from our next spot.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Let me start with this. So. Stinking. Pretty. The river is gorgeous with several rapid sections, plenty of swimming, and yes! Dinosaur tracks!! This place has a lot of history. There is camping and you can hike up to primitive hike-in only camp spots. The river makes a u shape so you can access it from either side of the entrance. Hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. There is also a really nice day use area that you can grill lunch and relax under trees. Near that, you can rent a cool pavilion that has a fireplace.
Coconino National Forest
This is in Arizona and runs along I-40 and I-17. If you head from I-40 out of Flagstaff South on 89A you run into Slide Rock before you get to Sedona. This was so pretty, and the kids and Ryan had fun swimming and jumping off rocks into the deep cold water. We camped West of Sedona off Loy Butte Rd. It's North of 89A before you get to Cottonwood. You can drive to the ghost town of Jerome and explore what's left. It has a versatile landscape from tall pines North of Sedona to the desert West of Sedona. We hiked, biked, swam, ate, camped, and of course did some jeeping.
Ouachita National Forest
Lake Ouachita is crazy pretty and so much fun! We have island camped near Brady Mountain Marina, boated the entire lake, been on houseboats, snorkeled, swam, skied, tubed, and so much more! there is so much fun to be had, it is a Great Lake with good marinas. Great fishing and updated camping sites if you don't want to try island camping.
This lake has 690 miles of shoreline and is 62.5 square miles! Just try and cover that in a trip, you won't trust me! There is so much to explore and wildlife to see, you won't regret trying this one.
Arches National Park
Utah, if you have never seen the arches this is a bucket list one for sure. Balancing rock was always one of my favorites as a kid. There is so much to hike and see here. It is just North of Moab. If Moab is on your list of places to go, why not hit up Arches while you're there? There is plenty of camping around Moab too, so this doesn't have to be an expensive trip.
Roosevelt National Forest
So, remember earlier in this post when I was talking about primitive camping North of Nederland, Colorado? Well, this is where we were. North of Nederland is some great dispersed camping. There are places to bike, hike, and jeep. We took our 31' travel trailer, and my parents took their jeep and homemade teardrop. It was an awesome trip and we have been back and will go back.
We actually went back one year later, I surprised Ryan with a mountain biking trip for our anniversary. We rented bikes from Tin Shed Sports and road from the bike shop up to Sugar Magnolia. We got there from Highway 119, took Eldora Rd West, then you hit the trailhead. We rode Sugar Mag, Short Stack, and Hobbit. The best tail map for mountain biking in Colorado that I have found is Trailforks. The guys at the bike shop told me about it. It rocks.
Gunnison National Forest
On that same trip, I surprised Ryan with downhill biking. Ryan was raised snowboarding in Alaska and when he travels, he used to always take his snowboard with him. I've never been on a lift, and I'm afraid of heights, so I was super scared to surprise him. I'm so glad I did because we found one of our favorite trips that we retake as much as we can. We have even done a quick 4 day weekend even though it's a 12 hour drive for us.
Here are some things we love:
- Downhill Biking
- Fly Fishing
- Exploring a Ghost Town
- River Rafting
- Jeeping/Off Roading
You have to hike to the peak of Mt. Crested Butte. You can take a lift ride most of the way up and then hike to the peak. This was great for me since I have a hard time in the altitude, I could enjoy the beauty and get some exercise in without doing myself in. (I'm learning y'all. Limitations stink!)
San Juan National Forest
Ok, ok. Yes, we really love Colorado. We have been all over the US from Eat to West Coast. We have lived from Alaska to Florida and quite a few states in between. Our favorite spots always gravitate toward to south and mid-west. Again, there is awesome camping here, fun trails, more than I can explain to you. Get out there and explore! San Juan National Forest has so much history. If you homeschool, why not make a history lesson out of it, then take a field trip vacation? We have done this with our kids through the years and they have not only learned so much doing this, but we have made the best memories!
I hope this list gave y'all some places to think about exploring. We will keep expanding our horizons. Even though these are our favorites, we are excited to add to this list. Follow our adventures on YouTube and Instagram @farmlifeandlace. Y'all come back now!