We are lucky to live in a country that has so many awesome RV vacation destinations. Having lived on the road since 2015, we have been able to experience many of the wonders of our National Parks as well some beautiful spots that many people do not ever get to see.
Our goal in making the change to full time RV living was to see and experience all of the awesome places that we had only seen on TV and in pictures. To test ourselves and create excellent learning opportunities for our kids. We have always felt strongly that we wanted our children to understand and appreciate that there are these wonderful places and that they OWN many of them.
Some of these places are obvious. You want to see the Grand Canyon because it is grand, you see it in books and on TV. Some of these places came as complete surprises, or came as advice from friends we made along the way. These are places that you may never have heard of- secret gems that are less known but just as awesome. We will share those as well, hoping to inspire you with some of the experiences that we have had, places we have seen.
We also discuss RV parks options and opportunities to camp for free in these spots so you can plan accordingly!
So here are the top 14 RV destinations that we have found on our journeys across the country.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was Americas first National Park. We think it is also the best! It is the Roving Foley’s favorite place to visit and as such, we have spent a good deal of time there. Yellowstone is massive not only in size, but in its natural offerings to the visitor. There are amazing views just about everywhere, mountains, valleys, raging rivers, waterfalls, lakes and spreading meadows. National Geographic calls Yellowstone one of the most imposing, a blend of land and water, forest and field, wildlife and geothermal features that often seem to be living things.(1)
There are the thermals- Yellowstone is home to more than 1/2 of the worlds thermal features. Old Faithful is just the tip. The park sits atop the largest volcanic system in the US, so there is plenty of thermal action going on at all times. Fumaroles, geysers, and mud pots abound along with rainbow colored hot springs to create other-worldly landscapes. They are absolutely amazing to tour and enjoy. There are an endless number of hikes in and around these geothermal wonders. Most are pretty easy- many have boardwalks built that are accessible.
Then there are the animals. Yellowstone is home to hundreds of species. Free ranging bison and elk can be seen nearly everywhere in the park. Black and brown bears and grey wolves are also frequently seen. Just a drive thru the park will nearly guarantee sightings of wildlife that will thrill the whole family. We love to go to the Lamar and Hayden Valleys early in the morning to catch some awesome animal sightings. All of the critters in Yellowstone seem to be so much more active- we have seen bison fighting, wolves frolicking, a grizzly bear swimming. Steam rising from the ground adds an eerie feeling to the whole landscape.
Taken together Yellowstone National ParkP is a top RV destination for anyone on the road. There are many RV parks both in and around the park, as well as loads of sites for boondocking if you wish to camp for free. It is a must-see park for anyone who wants to experience mother nature in action.
Utah Mighty 5
We were lucky enough to spend several months exploring the Mighty 5 Utah National Parks. There are actually 5 separate parks, each amazing in it’s own right. But since they are all so close together and could all possibly be enjoyed in one trip (we don’t recommend that, but it could be done) we put them all together as one favorite. No matter how you visit these parks, or how many you visit at a time- you are guaranteed to have one of the best RV trips in the West. You will quickly understand why these are some of Americas most popular parks.
Zion is one of the most visited parks each year. It is a long winding valley which runs between towering cliffs of red sandstone. The canyon was formed by the Virgin River which runs down the center. As you progress further up into the canyon, the cliffs get closer and closer together forming an area called “The Narrows” which follows the river up until the walls get as close as 20 feet apart and 2000 feet tall.
Zion is a hikers paradise and there are many to choose from. Most are fairly vertical in nature, and some will simply scare the s*&t out of you. But the vistas you encounter are amazing and spiritual and well worth the effort if you are so inclined. We did several hikes in the park including the Observation Point Trail. That was a grueling 4 mile uphill hike but the views from the top were astounding. We could see right down the length of the valley.
Be ready for crowds- there is only one road in and most for the park is only accessible by bus, so the lines get long.
Bryce Canyon sits atop the Escalante Staircase which is a continual stair step shaped series of land form’s exposing over 200 million years of earths geological history (The Grand Canyon is the bottom step). We spent a month at Bryce and explored a great deal of the park. The landscape here is absolutely unique to anywhere else in the world. Pink and white layers of the crust here are eroded by the freeze thaw cycles that dominate the climate here. The outcome is the tall striped hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon famous.
Hiking in this park is surreal. The hoodoos create formations that look like all sorts of things (sort of like making pictures with clouds.) Many of the formations carry names given to them by the native peoples that lived in the area long before white settlers came and though it a mystical place, but many have newer names as well. The hikes range from an easy “Rim Trail” which runs along the upper rim of the park, to the more aggressive trails that go down into the canyon and wind among the hoodoos and trees before climbing back up to the top again.
These were certainly among the best hiking trails we have ever been on and we highly recommend Bryce Canyon National Park to anyone heading west.
Canyonland’s is one of the lesser known parks in Utah. It is about a 30 minute drive from Moab- the closest town. With no expectations we found it to be one of the most surprising places we have visited. The park is formed by the Colorado and Greene Rivers which have carved a series canyons deep into the a relatively flat portion of the Colorado Plateau. Massive, colorful canyons every bit as awesome as the Grand Canyon (IMHO) command the landscape.
Canyonlands is comprised of 3 different parts- Islands in the Sky, which I described above, The Needles, which is known for red and white striped stone pinnacles, and The Maze, which is one of the least accessible areas in the United States. These last 2 areas are frequented more by back country hikers/ bikers etc, than day to day tourists. Islands in the Sky is more developed for tourism although this is one of the more “undeveloped” (by design) parks we have visited. We really hope to get back to Utah soon and spend more time in Canyonlands.
Just outside of Moab is Arches National Park. It is aptly named as this park is home to more than 2000 natural limestone arches of all shapes and sizes. While natural arches can be found in other parts of the worlds, this is certainly the largest concentration. This park is unique in that it sits over top of a huge concentration of salt which is very soft and fluid. Over millions of years the harder limestone layers have been pushed up and down by the movement of the salt layer until massive sections of limestone become situated vertically, forming “fins.” The fins are weathered away until the thinner middle sections wear through forming the arches.
Many fins are still predominant in parts of the park, along with monoliths and balanced rocks.
Arches is a driving park- one road in and back out again. Large crowds can cause parking issues, so plan ahead and give yourself extra time. There are many trails to hike which range from short and easy, to long back country trails to sights that are inaccessible by road. There is certainly something here for everyone. We loved Arches because many of the hikes were pretty flat and easy for the kiddos. They could get right up to (and into) the arches and experience them from close up. Big win for us!
The main feature creating the landscape of Capitol Reef National Park is a 100 mile long fold in the earths crust called the “Waterpocket Fold” The resulting upheaval created miles of white sandstone cliffs. The tops of these cliffs have weathered into rounded white “domes” resembling the domes on many capitol building. According to Brittanica, the park gets its name “because its long rock ridges topped by towers and pinnacles formed barriers to travel that were reminiscent of navigational hazards such as coral reefs and because its monolithic dome-shaped formations evoked comparisons to monumental buildings such as the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.”(2)
Capitol Reef has a bit of everything- extremely rugged landscape, cliffs, domes. monoliths, and of course, an apple orchard! The orchard is the remainder of an area in the center of the park which was irrigated by early Mormon settlers. The trees remain to this day and their fruit is free to visitors who want to pick it.
This park is also known for petroglyph panels left behind by the Freemont Indians some 700 years ago depicting big horn sheep and deer hunts.
Each of these parks has campground options both within and outside the parks. There is also loads of federal land around the parks which means loads of opportunities to camp for free. YES! Check with the local or BLM offices or freecampsites.net for details.
Yosemite National Park is just stunning. The beauty of the Yosemite Valley alone draws the majority of the parks 4 million visitors every year. The lush green valley is bracketed on either side by towering granite cliffs. With names like El Capitan, and Half Dome, these granite mountains have become famous the world around. Yosemite Valley encompasses only 7 sq miles of the 1100 sq mile park. Other parts of the park include Sequoia Forests, mountain lakes, high meadows and glaciers.
The view down the length of the Yosemite Valley is one of the most photographed and iconic vistas anywhere. To this day it is the only place that I can remember that was so beautiful I thought it looked like a backdrop even as I was standing there.
Yosemite does have RV camping inside the park, and there are also many parks outside as well. We stayed at Bass Lake which was about 30 minutes south of the park, near the Sequoias. It was a long drive in, but the park was beautiful and right next to a lake with a lovely restaurant. This was an extremely family friendly RV park with lots going on at the weekend.
“Thrillist” calls them “the most beloved treasure in the southeastern United States (3) The Smoky Mountains are our family “best destination” in the autumn. Soft rolling mountains painted with every hue of red, gold and yellow are so beautiful, you never want to look away.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is THE most visited park in the National Park system. Over 10 million visitors come every year. We have spent several autumn months visiting this park and we never tire of the views. Early morning visits to Cades Cove almost guarantee that you will see frolicking deer in the misty fields. This part of the park is also known for the many historic buildings left behind by early settlers. These buildings are preserved by the National Parks Service and are accessible most days.
There are loads of hiking trails in the park featuring rivers, waterfalls and beautiful forests. Areas outside the park have some of the best mountain RV parks you can find anywhere.
Outer Banks, NC
The Outer Banks are such a beautiful place. White sandy dunes and loads of stuff to do. We stayed in the town of Hatteras which is the end of the line when traveling down from Kitty Hawk. As you progress down the islands, the clutter of homes and businesses gets lighter and lighter until you get to Hatteras which is a nice quiet fishing town- just right for some relaxation.
We stayed at the Hatteras Sands Campground which is the only one that far down. It is right in town and is very close to the ferry dock to Ocracoke Island- Blackbeard’s Lair. Location-wise it can’t be beat.
Past times in Hatteras included bike riding, fishing, crabbing and taking the ferry over to Ocracoke Island. It was super relaxing and we can’t wait to take another trip out to the OBX.
The Grand Canyon is aptly named. It is a canyon, and it is grand. I don’t think anyone could possibly forget walking up to the rim for the first time. No pictures you ever saw do this thing justice. It is just so huge and deep.
We stayed in Williams, AZ and visited the South Rim. That is the more developed area and there is quite a bit to do and see. Grand Canyon Village handles the needs of the millions of visitors each year. It is really nice town. The rim trail that runs along the South Rim is a pretty easy hike- it is fairly flat. However for families with youngsters it can be a little scary. The trail runs RIGHT along the rim, so there are edges with long drops. We held a lot of hands.
There are many good RV parks around the park on all sides. Williams and the Flagstaff areas are good places to base yourself. Additionally there are a large number of boondocking sites near the park, and around those towns as well.
Gulf Coast, FL
Florida’s “Emerald Coast” stretches from Pensacola about 100 miles to Panama City. It is one of the most beautiful beach areas anywhere and is a mecca for RVers year around. Miles and miles of undeveloped and protected white sand dunes are the areas main feature. Mild temperatures and smaller crowds make this area a favorite for RVers. There are also some of the best RV parks on the beach that you can find anywhere, like Pensacola Beach RV Resort, or the oceanfront Destin Beach RV Resort.
The Pensacola area is our particular favorite. The city of Pensacola is surprisingly metropolitan for such a small city. There is a rich history to be visited in the Historical District, a bustling downtown area with shops, galleries and restaurants, and of course the Naval Base which is home to the Blue Angels.
Pensacola Beach is a tourist mecca with loads of restaurants and shops, and beaches that go for miles. We spent a few months at the Pensacola Beach RV Resort and it was one our best RV parks ever.
Destin, about midway down the Emerald Coast is an uber tourIsty town and draws crowds every year as does Panama City Beach.
St Simons Island
We stayed in Brunswick, GA a couple of years ago on our way from the Smoky Mountains down to Florida for the winter. It was there that we discovered St. Simon’s Island. This beautiful little island is sort of the “little sister” (even though it is quite a bit larger) to the better known Jeckyl Island just to the south and part of a string of barrier islands known as the “Golden Isles.
We were there in the autumn so there were not a lot of people around, but we fell in love with the place. The beaches here are are long and flat with huge portions being exposed when the tide goes out. You can walk for miles exploring the sand and the horseshoe crabs and sand dollars that are left behind.
There is a small town on the island which is just a cute as a small island town should be. Numerous shops and restaurants and a lovely promenade highlight the waterfront. Travel and Leisure says: “A laid-back party vibe infuses its sunny streets, whose early-20th-century storefronts are occupied by seafood restaurants, bars, antiques shops, and art galleries.”(4)
The rest of the island is neighborhoods draped with Mossy Oaks, and marshlands teeming with wildlife. There are loads of outdoor activities to do like biking, hiking, or kayaking and multiple tour operators if you need a hand.
The Oregon Coast is not for the faint at heart. It is rugged, windswept and natural. If you are picturing sun soaked tourists baking on the sand as waves lap softly to the shore- try again! This place is where the ocean and the sea come to fight it out. The result of their constant battle is a place of eye-popping beauty and visceral natural drama.
We spent a month in Florence, a perfectly wonderful little town along the banks of the Siuslaw River just before it empties into the Pacific Ocean. It is also the northern border of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area, a 40 mile strip of towering (some as high as 500 ft.) sand dunes along the coast. This area therefore, is a mecca for dune buggy’s, dirt bikes, and all vehicles dune-related.
It is also a great spot for fishing, crabbing (mmm, Dungeness- we did quite a bit of crabbing while we were there) and beach exploration. With the near constant gale force winds driving mist and pounding surf, the shoreline here is a fantastic place for gathering shells, rocks, driftwood- even a beached whale while we were there.
One very special thing about Florence ( there are any number of really nice towns along this coast) is their pouring out each year for their 4th of July Celebration. It is spectacular and on a scale much larger than a town of it’s size would normally produce. I commend them on that- it is quite impressive.
Another impressive part of Florence is the lovely waterfront area along the river. A park (complete with an awesome farmers market, shops, street front restaurants, etc make a lovely place to spend some time recovering from the beating you just took at the beach. We loved sitting at one of the street side cafe tables with a nice glass of wine, watching the world walk by.
The coast of Oregon offers a good many campground options north to south. They do tend to book up in the summer so book early!.
The Florida Keys are like no place else. Prior to our move to full time RV living, we lived in South Florida, and made frequent trips to the keys. Our first stop when we hit the road was in Marathon. Even after all of our travels, the Keys remain one of our favorite places. From the quiet, relaxing, “Old Florida” feel of Key Largo to the amped-up evenings of Duval Street in Key West, the Keys offer something for every traveler. You have no choice but to melt into the vibe, relax, and enjoy yourself.
RVing in the Keys unfortunately has become very expensive in recent years as prices in many campgrounds have nearly doubled what they were just a few years ago.
Still, if budget provides, we highly recommend making the Florida Keys one of your Bucket List RV Destinations.
Custer State Park, SD
Like many people, we discovered Custer State Park while on a trip to visit Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota. We stayed at a county recreation area and the park was on our route to get to the monument. We were absolutely shocked. Having just come from Yellowstone we were not expecting anything that could rival the excitement we felt there, but we were very mistaken!
Custer State Park is a very large state park. Along with amazing natural beauty, it holds one of the largest herds of free ranging bison in the nation as well as herds of elk, deer, and about a million prairie dogs. Their communities dot the sides of the highways throughout the park. Then there are the Begging Burros. The park is also home to a small herd of burros descended from those brought through during the gold rush. They inhabit a particular spot in the park and are known to beg tourists for carrots, apples, or other appropriate treats. Be careful- they are wild. One of them actually kicked Aine in the hip. OUCH!
Of course in the area around Custer, you do also get mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Black Hills National Park, Crazy Horse National Monument and the Badlands all nearby. This is a fantastic area of the country we encourage a visit.
Upper Peninsula, MI
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is one of the most under appreciated areas in the country. I grew up in Michigan and several of my siblings went to college in the UP, so I spend a good deal of time there. This is an area that enjoys a solid 4 seasons and outdoor enthusiasts take advantage of all four. From hiking and biking in the summer, to hunting and leaf peeping in the fall, to snowmobiling and skiing in the winter, Michigan’s UP has it all.
In the eastern part of the UP, there is the Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw Island which has no cars, and Sault St. Marie, where the locks allow shipping between Lakes Superior and Huron. Heading west there are the Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore where towering cliffs fall directly down into the “Big Lake.”
Farther west is the Keweenaw Peninsula which juts (like a thumb) up into Lake Superior. This area was once a thriving copper mining area and the history still lives in the area. A drive from Houghton (the home of Michigan Tech University) up to Copper harbor is one of the most enjoyable stretches of road you will find anywhere.
Further west yet are the Porcupine Mountains and Lake of the clouds. This area is quite wild and unspoiled as is much of the UP.
All in all Michigan’s upper half is a place not to be missed. It is rare in it’s beauty and so much of it is unspoiled. Just don’t tell too many people- we like to keep it a secret!
Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, VA
Near the mouth of the Chesapeake river, there is a peninsula formed between the York and James Rivers. The Virginia Peninsula, though very small in size, packs in 3 of the most important and consequential sites in American history. These sites today, are super enjoyable to visit and packed with scenery, activities and educational opportunities that thrill the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. For these reasons, the area is one of our best summer RV destinations for families. It is a wonderful place for kids to learn about history while they are experiencing the places that it happened.
Jamestown, the site of the first English settlement in the US, is now a historical site in which the remains of the original settlement, and recreations of the fort, and an Indian village are on display. There is also ongoing archeology in the area which continues to product artifacts from the time. Our kiddo’s were enthralled to ask questions of one of the college students that were working on the dig.
Historic Williamsburg is an entire period town and living history museum in which tourists can experience life in the 18th Century America complete with actors, reenactments, stores, museums and many, many restored buildings. While we were there, our kids actually met and spoke to the man himself, George Washington who was riding a horse through town. It was a VERY exciting day!
Yorktown was by far our favorite. The quintessential battle of the American Revolution took place right here. The battlefield is still here, preserved for generations and even through the civil war in which it was used again. There is a visitors center/ museum and Park Ranger Tours which detail every movement of the siege.
The town itself is also intact, and although it is now a modern town, there are still many of the historical buildings which can be toured- including the Thomas Nelson House which was used as Cornwallis’ Headquarters. Thomas is a signer of the Declaration of Independence and famously offered a reward to any artilleryman who could hit his house during the siege. The house still shows the scars, including a cannonball still embedded in the bricks to this day.
OK, I have to be honest here and admit that Acadia is the only area on my list which I have NOT visited-yet. We have been planning and trying to visit this jewel for several years but fate has always intervened and turned us in another direction. However, the rare beauty of this park, combines with a New England landscape and the many first hand accounts that we have gotten from fellow RVers who have spent time there, ensures that Acadia will remain at the top of our bucket list until we can get there and relate some stories of our own.
So after 4 plus years of full time RV’ing, these are the places that we consider MUST-SEE. We hope that you will add them to your own bucket list and take your family to these wonderful American sites.
What is YOUR favorite spot to RV in the US, Please let us know below so we can add it to our own Bucket List.
(1) Joe Yogerst, Everything to Know About Yellowstone National Park, https://blog.campingworld.com/at-the-campsite/boondocking/3-types-boondocking-every-rver-should-know-about/
(2) Kenneth Pletcher, Capitol Reef National Park, https://www.britannica.com/place/Capitol-Reef-National-Park
(3) Rebecca Strassberg, The Most Photogenic Spots in the Smoky Mountains, https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nashville/9-things-to-experience-in-the-great-smoky-mountains
(4) Jessica Dineen, 4 Great U.S. Islands https://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/the-golden-isles