RV life is simply awesome. Whether you are “all in” and going at it full-time or you are stealing weekends and the occasional week or two to get away, the escapes are priceless. The memories even more so.
But what is it that makes RV life so great? Well, I guess the answer to that question is always going to depend on who is answering. We all do it for different reasons, different motivations, different dreams.
In our extensive RV travels, natural wonders drove the itinerary more than any other single item. We focused on National Parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty across this amazing continent of ours. And we don’t regret that choice for a second.
If you are also motivated by a desire to see as many natural wonders and mind-blowing landscapes as possible during your RV travels, this post is definitely for you. So read on!
7 Natural Wonders of the Western U.S. You Must See In Your RV
I know, seven is a pretty small number when you’re talking about what you must see in the Western U.S. There is so much beauty in this region! You could probably spend an entire lifetime just exploring everything the Rocky Mountains have to offer, let alone the rest of the West.
But this is not an encyclopedia, folks. This is a blog post. So we will stick with seven and we will try to be happy with it.
These natural wonders are not listed in order of importance or priority. By all means, start with the one that you can get to first and then keep moving up and down the list from there!
Crater Lake in Southern Oregon
I may be just a little bit biased in placing this wonder first on the list. You see, it’s probably the first real natural wonder that I experienced as a child of about 6 years old, since I lived 5-6 hours away. I’ve got some very early memories tied up in this one, in addition to the memories made when I was able to visit here with my own wife and kids in the Fall of 2017 during our full-time RV travels.
Located in southwestern Oregon, Crater Lake fills a collapsed volcanic caldera and is the deepest lake in the United States (max depth of 1,949 ft), the seventh deepest in the world.
Chances are you’ve seen pictures of this natural wonder, but trust me when I tell you that those images cannot begin to capture the experience of standing on the rim of this caldera and taking in the sheer scale of what is before you. Here’s what I’m talking about:
- Maximum diameter of caldera at the rim: 6.02 miles
- Minimum diameter of caldera at the rim: 4.54 miles
- Surface area of the lake: 20.42 square miles (13,069 acres)
- Average height of caldera rim above the lake: 1,000 ft
And the color and clarity of the water? Nope, pictures can’t capture that either.
When Should I Visit?
With this gem sitting at over 6,000 ft above sea level, and receiving around 44 feet of snow every year, timing your visit properly is obviously very important.
The main roads around the rim that allow you to explore the area are often closed due to weather. When we visited in mid-September, the area had just gotten a dusting of snow (which made the whole experience more magical for sure), but a large section of the rim road was already closed due to previous snowfall.
So, a late Spring or Summer visit is your safest bet for getting to experience the lake to its fullest. (Though I can’t overstate the perfection of our Fall visit. Take that for what it’s worth.)
Be sure to check out the official conditions at nps.gov to stay on the safe side. Also, we go into much more detail on our visit to this scenic region in this post.
One thing is for sure, you will never regret a visit to this jaw-dropping natural wonder of the Great Northwest, no matter what time of year you choose.
Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California
Breath. Taking. That doesn’t specifically describe this natural wonder itself, though it is indeed a beautiful granite dome. It actually describes the view that you are able to enjoy from the top of this dome and on the short hike up to it.
On our second visit to Yosemite National Park in October 2017, my oldest son chose this location for an early morning family outing. As we crossed the Yosemite Valley around 6 am and began climbing in elevation on the south side, the fog was thick and snow flurries began to pick up. This was completely unexpected and it was pretty thrilling.
By the time we reached the trailhead near about a mile from Sentinel Dome, the temperature at that higher elevation had dropped to about 20 degrees. For me, that temp was a bit daunting and I wasn’t quite sure what we were in for. But once we sucked it up and hit the trail, the temp actually felt perfect with the sun breaking through and warming our slightly chilled bones.
When we reached the top of Sentinel Dome after the short hike, we had a spectacular view of the entire Yosemite Valley, from El Capitan to Half Dome and everything in between. It was simply astounding, and if the temp and wind had cooperated a bit more I would have gladly spent half the day up there. But what should we expect at 8,123 feet elevation in October?
Bottom line is that I don’t think you could possibly pick a better and more rewarding 2-mile hike than the out and back trail to Sentinel Dome. It is a must-do on your next visit, and every visit for that matter, to Yosemite National Park.
When Should I Visit?
As I mentioned above, this spot is located above 8,000 feet in Northern California. When we visited Yosemite in March 2016 for the first time, I think we got a bit lucky because we had clear roads and no major storms rolling through. That is not always the case in March and April, so you can be taking a bit of a risk planning a visit that early in the year.
But on the bright side, you also get to avoid the Summer crowds that can have a negative impact on your experience.
For both of our visits, in March and in October, we had freezing overnight temps and at least a little bit of snow falling. The daytime temps were perfect in the 50s and 60s and we thoroughly enjoyed the weather all around. Here is one of our posts giving you reasons to visit in the Spring.
Ultimately, it just depends on what kind of temps you prefer for exploring the outdoors, how much risk you are willing to take with the weather, and how much you dislike the large summer crowds that are inevitable in Yosemite National Park.
Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco, California
Okay, I know I can get wordy when I’m talking about these natural wonders that I absolutely love. I am going to try and keep these descriptions a bit shorter from here on out or I will have an encyclopedic volume on my hands.
Located less than a 30-minute drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods remains one of the most memorable natural wonders that we experienced during our travels in 2017-18. And that is saying something, because we saw a lot.
A Spiritual Experience
It is simply impossible to put into words the peace and serenity found in this remarkable stand of old-growth Redwoods. I didn’t get near enough time to just linger among those Redwoods, to just sit and soak it in, but for me, the experience was still a very spiritual one, almost other-worldly. It left a mark on me and I plan to return for a much longer visit as soon as possible.
The monument offers approximately 6 miles of hiking trails which are all paved or boardwalk. You can choose a 1/2 mile loop, a 1-mile loop or a 1.5-mile loop to explore this mesmerizing world. Please remember that there are no pets allowed at the monument.
Finally, please be aware that parking and shuttle reservations are now required at Muir Woods due to the increasing traffic to this natural wonder.
When Should I Visit?
Because of its location near sea level and in the moderate Northern California climate, you could choose just about any time of year for a visit that you will thoroughly enjoy and absolutely never forget. The sooner the better!
The Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona
In November 2017, we found ourselves settled into an RV park just 40 minutes west of Sedona, Arizona in the small town of Cottonwood. We had the opportunity to spend a full two weeks in this location and explore the area, though not nearly as much as I would have preferred (life just happens sometimes).
Side note: If you have kids along for the ride that enjoy skateboarding, you really can’t miss out on probably the most scenic skate park in the U.S., Jack Malmgren Memorial Skate Park. With a complete array of red rock cliffs and peaks as a backdrop, skating doesn’t get much better than this. It’s so good that it doesn’t even feel real.
The entire area is just one feast for the eyes after another and there is plenty of hiking and exploring to keep you busy for weeks if you choose.
Cathedral Rock Trail
But the hike that we really enjoyed that I would recommend to you is Cathedral Rock Trail. I got to do this hike twice during our visit and it was totally worth it. It is a short but fairly challenging hike that involves just as much scrambling up rocks as it does walking on a trail. You will feel the burn and the adrenaline, believe me!
The views from the summit are definitely worth it, so be sure to take your time looking around up top and exploring all of the different little paths you can explore. If you’re looking for “that shot” for your social media, you will find it here.
If you need some more ideas for Sedona hiking trails not to miss, be sure to check out our post all about Sedona hikes.
When Should I Visit?
We loved the temps, and the lighter crowds, during our visit in November. With lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s, it was perfect for enjoying everything the area has to offer.
While you can really visit year-round because of the moderate temps, many people say that a visit in March or April, when the desert is in bloom, is probably your best bet.
Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park, Utah
Oh Utah, we missed so many opportunities that you offered! Sigh. But with our decision to visit Utah in December, we couldn’t expect anything different. That weather just wasn’t cooperating. (Can you say lows in the teens?)
Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Zion National Park, one of the most visited parks in the nation that is filled with peaks to dwarf you and views to blow you away.
But have you ever heard of Kolob Canyons? Odds are that you haven’t, but it is actually the name of the northern section of Zion National Park. Obviously, it can get overlooked with all of the sights to see in the main area of the park, such as the Temple of Sinawava, the Grotto, the Narrows, Angel’s Landing and many more.
Less Traffic, More Solitude
So why would you visit this lesser-known area of the park? Well if solitude is your cup of tea, that is why! I could count on one hand the number of people that me and my two boys saw during our multiple hikes in Kolob Canyons. The hiking and the views were just as grand as in the main area of the park, but we had it pretty much all to ourselves! (Again, this was in December with freezing temps all day long, but still.)
Take a look at our tips for enjoying the Narrows Hike while you’re in the area!
When Should I Visit?
Should you plan a visit in your RV to this area of the country in December? Well, that completely depends on how prepared you are and how adventurous you are feeling. You can read all about our winter RVing experiences in this post to give you some idea of what to expect.
But as with many other locations, some of the best times to visit in order to enjoy moderate temps and smaller crowds would be mid-Spring or Fall. Whenever you visit, you will absolutely come away with memories to last a lifetime.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah
And since we’re in Utah, let’s stick around for a minute and talk about another world-class wonder that you will find in Arches National Park: Delicate Arch.
As a whole, Arches National Park was a top-notch experience. We were able to visit during that same December visit to Utah that allowed us to see Zion National Park. The mid-day temps were really nice during this time of year, and as expected the crowds were quite light. Overnight temps were still in the teens, which isn’t a great thing when you forget to plug in your heated water hose…and it is destroyed. Ugh.
But our 3-mile round-trip hike to Delicate Arch for sunset stands out as a major highlight during our visit to this national park.
Let me say that the hike was a bit less enjoyable for my wife, Julie, than for the rest of us. (If you struggle with heights, pay attention.) The last 200 yards or so of the trail traverses a narrow (5-6 ft) rock ledge that proved to be Julie’s nemesis. She was doing fine until my youngest son decided to get a little too close to the edge for her comfort, and it caused her knees to go out and “the sweats” to start. It was an unfortunate turn of events during our visit, but everyone still got to enjoy sunset views of this delicate wonder. And talk about photogenic!! Wow.
When Should I Visit?
I’m going to kind of sound like broken record here, but you have to choose what’s best for you: Cooler temps and smaller crowds (Spring and Fall), or warmer (hot) temps and larger crowds (Summer). Choose what’s best for you, but get there whenever you can for views that are unforgettable.
We only had a couple of days to explore during our December visit, but I would absolutely love to have a full week at least to really dig in and see all this park has to offer. You won’t regret a week there, especially since another national park (Canyonlands) is just a short drive down the road. Boredom will not be an issue! Take advantage of that two-for-one experience.
Royal Gorge in Canon City, Colorado
I’m going to wrap this list up in the same spot where our RV travel adventures really started: Royal Gorge Bridge and Park
Yep, this was our first real stop after leaving Texas in the summer of 2017, heading north on our adventure of a lifetime. And let me tell you, it was a great way to start!
This is the kind of natural wonder that truly leaves an impression due to both the sheer scale of this gorge (1,250 feet deep) and the beauty of the location. Now, it’s not just the scale of the gorge that really gets you, but the fact that you can walk across the gorge on the longest suspension bridge in Colorado and really get the full experience. (Trust me, it’s worth the price even though it’s not especially cheap.)
The park offers plenty of other attractions and experiences (gondolas, zip line, sky coaster) that will allow you to spend all the cash you want that’s burning a hole in your pocket. We enjoyed the gondola ride for the family but didn’t go for the other options. And our experience was absolutely fantastic. Especially since we stayed at a nearby RV park for several nights where we could actually catch a glimpse of the bridge from our spot. No complaints about that visit!
Despite the fact that Julie struggles with heights, she made it across this bridge somehow…after much encouragement and some hand-holding. And she says she would go back and do it again! So yeah, it’s that good.
When Should I Visit?
Well, folks, it’s Colorado. It snows there. And it gets cold in the winter. So choose your time wisely and be sure to take a look at their official hours.
If you are expecting to be in Colorado, this may be a pretty easy extra stop to add since it is only about one hour from Colorado Springs and two hours from the Denver area.
I truly hope you can experience this natural wonder of Colorado soon!
Which of These Natural Wonders Is At the Top of Your List?
You’ve got some great natural wonders to choose from here, my friend. Honestly, looking back and realizing that we got to experience all of these natural wonders during our RV travels, and so much more, just blows my mind. Any one of them will make for some fantastic memories, but if you can hit them all then absolutely make it happen!
These wonders offer you the kind of RV experiences that will stick with you for a lifetime. Guaranteed! Let us know which ones you have visited and would recommend to others.
Now get out there and keep on TREKKN!
Todd Bonner is the slightly quieter half of the dynamic TREKKN duo. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at breathtaking pictures of Glacier National Park, probably his favorite spot on earth.