New River Gorge National River

Overview

Ironically, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world at 65-million years.  In the 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge it falls 750 feet in elevation, meaning it is full of Class I to V rapids that attract whitewater rafters from around the world.

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Highlights

Bridge, scenic views, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, free campgrounds

Must-Do Activity

Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers information and great views of the New River Gorge Bridge.  From there you can drive down the twisty road to the river.  Most visitors come here for whitewater rafting, so you should consider hiring a guide to take you out.

Best Trail

The Endless Wall Trail makes a 3-mile loop trail that provides great views of the New River Gorge and the bridge, as well as access to some of the park’s 1,600 rock climbing routes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Completed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge is the second longest single-steel span in the world.  Highway 82 passes underneath where it rises 876 feet above the river.

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Peak Season

Summer (fall for whitewater rafting)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, and even many of the NPS campgrounds are free.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads we drove were steep and windy but passable by passenger vehicles, probably not by RVs.

Camping

Gravel roads access 5 free primitive campgrounds and historic ruins like Thurmond Historic District.

Group shot!
Overlook on the Endless Wall Trail.

Scott (in red) along the Endless Wall trail

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Ladders provide a “less peligro” way for non-rock climbers to ascend the Endless Wall.
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Rhododendron bloom
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Some whitewater on the New River.

Morning fog along the New River gorge

Tiff swimming in the New River
There are lots of rapids, except here at Stone Cliff primitive campground.

Explore More – Annually, what day is the bridge closed to allow BASE jumpers and rappelers to play on it?

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Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

Overview

Lake Chelan is fifty-five miles long and 1,486 feet in depth, the third deepest lake in the U.S.  At the north end of the lake (inaccessible by road), Stehekin, Washington has only about 100 year-round residents.  Daily ferries service the community, which is the jumping off point for the mountain trails of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park.

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Highlights

Ferry, Stehekin, Rainbow Falls, backpacking trails

Must-Do Activity

Stehekin is too fun for a brief day trip, so we recommend you book a room or pick up overnight backpacking permits at the Golden West Visitor Center in town.  Then hop on the red jammer-style bus that provides transportation to the trailheads, including the short hike to Rainbow Falls.  Nearby, the old one-room schoolhouse is open to visitors since it was replaced by a more modern building.  Don’t miss the chance to sample the delicious variety of baked goods at Stehekin Pastry Company.  After backpacking the many steep switchbacks, you will need the extra calories.

Best Trail

There are several great loop options, but we enjoyed hooking into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail then back south over McAlester Pass to Rainbow Creek Trail on a two night backpacking trip.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The beautiful Lake Chelan is known for its clarity and its fjord-like proportions, which you can best enjoy on the ferry ride to Stehekin.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/stehekin.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but there are charges for the ferry, bus, and backcountry campsites.

Road Conditions

No roads, so you will be walking or paying to take the red jammer-style bus out of Stehekin.

Camping

Purple Point and Harlequin Campgrounds are off the main road north of Stehekin, but since you have to pack in all of your gear on the ferry you may as well camp at one of the backcountry sites (permit required) along the many trails in the area.

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In good snowmelt years, expect to get sprayed when visiting Rainbow Falls.
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From 1921-1988, all grade levels were taught in this tiny schoolhouse in Stehekin.

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Explore More – How far below sea level is the bottom of Lake Chelan?

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Fort Monroe National Monument

Overview

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Yorktown, Virginia, there is a brick fort so large it puts all others to shame.  It was held throughout the Civil War by the Union Army, hosting President Lincoln multiple times and providing a refuge for escaped slaves.  Following the War Between the States it served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (his cell is contained within the Casemate Museum).  The fort was not decommissioned by the military until 2011 when it was declared Fort Monroe National Monument, though it still contains private residences.

Tiff with the moat that you could drive over!

Highlights

Casemate Museum, Building #50, moat you can drive over

Must-Do Activity

After you visit the Casemate Museum, walk around the ramparts and the parade ground with its countless live oak trees, including the 500-year-old Algernourne Oak.  Nearby Outlook Beach is popular for swimming, as is North Beach which is also part of the National Monument.

Best Trail

There is a self-guided walking tour that passes Building #50 (the house President Lincoln stayed in) and the Algernourne Oak.  Watch for traffic when you cross the moat through the East Gate.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The author Edgar Allen Poe served here in 1828, so you can pose with him and his raven inside the Casemate Museum.

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Peak Season

Open year round, though the summertime brings more tourists to the Yorktown Peninsula.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fomr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None to walk the grounds and even the Casemate Museum is now free ($3 for guided tours).

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but be aware that most moat-crossing bridges are only one lane wide.

Camping

None in the monument which is filled with private homes, but there are several private campgrounds in the area.

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Drive across the moat to enter the fort.
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Flagstaff Bastion Overlook offers great views of Fort Monroe and the coastline.
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Inside the Casemate Museum.

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Scott with a house that Lincoln stayed at when he was visiting the fort
Building #50 housed Abraham Lincoln during his stays at Fort Monroe during the Civil War.
Tiff with the historic fort church
Live oak trees line the extensive Parade Ground inside Fort Monroe National Monument.

Explore More – The fort was completed in 1834 under the supervision of which famous Civil War General (then a Lieutenant)?

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Overview

One could argue that George Perkins Marsh became the world’s first environmentalist with the publication of his book Man and Nature in 1864.  The sole National Park Service (NPS) site in the state of Vermont is dedicated to his property.  Later owners, Frederick Billings and the Rockefeller family followed through on Marsh’s conservation principles in their management of the farm and forest.  Laurence and Mary Rockefeller donated the estate to the U.S. government in 1992 and the park opened to the public in 1998.

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Highlights

Museum/film in the Carriage Barn Visitor Center, Mansion Tour, Garden Tour, trails

Must-Do Activity

Visitors have to pay for NPS guided tours of the mansion and its original artwork (including paintings by Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt).  There is also an entrance fee at the neighboring Billings Farm and Museum which is run by the non-profit Woodstock Foundation and provides a more hands-on experience that is great for kids, especially after a “do not touch” tour of the mansion.

Best Trail

Frederick Billings bought this family farm to practice the reforestation preached in George Perkins Marsh’s book.  There are 20 miles of trails through the forest around Mount Tom that open year round (though a ski trail pass is required in winter).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Be sure to take a walk through the well-manicured gardens on the property before or after your tour.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mabi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free to walk the trails, while the wide variety of tours cost extra (discounted with an America the Beautiful pass).  The adjacent Billings Farm is privately managed and charges a separate entry fee.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Silver Lake State Park has campsites with running water.

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Tiff out front of the mansion

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The Rockefellers are in the photo on the right

View from the front porch

Jersey cows at Billings Farm
Park at the adjacent Billings Farm.

Explore More – What are some other National Park Service units donated by the Rockefeller family?

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Top 10 National Park Campgrounds with Running Water

We have not stayed at many campgrounds in National Parks, but enough to have had bad experiences in noisy Zion and Yosemite.  This is our ranking of the top 10 National Park campgrounds with running water (as opposed to those with vault toilets that we will rank separately).

  1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Juniper Campground (50 sites) in the North Unit sits in a grove of mature cottonwood trees on the banks of the Little Missouri River.

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

Mule deer frequent Pinyon Flats Campground (88 sites) which overlooks the dunefield.

  1. Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)

Owens Creek Campground is thickly forested, offering privacy and quiet.

  1. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Chisos Basin Campground has 360° views and its high elevation keeps it cool even in the summer.

  1. Acadia National Park (Maine)

Away from the bustle of Mount Desert Island, we spent a quiet night at the new Schoodic Peninsula Campground.

Everglades

  1. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Long Pine Key Campground is open year round and was almost deserted during our April visit.

  1. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

Scott has fond memories of a childhood stay at Jenny Lake Campground beneath Teewinot Peak.

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  1. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Probably not as nice in the summer, but we enjoyed our March stay in Twin Peaks Campground with its many trails.

  1. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

Campsites are nicely spread out in Dunewood Campground, inland from Lake Michigan.

…and finally our #1 campground in a National Park!

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  1. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Turkeys and mule deer will also be camping with you in the apple orchards of the Fruita District.

 

Honorable Mention

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

The spots are close together, but it has a great location at the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak and not far from Carlsbad Caverns National Park (without a campground) across the border in New Mexico.