Wind Cave National Park

Overview

The seventh-longest mapped cave in the world, Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by Black Hills settlers who noticed a whistling sound coming from its narrow natural entrance.  It was named a national park in 1903 and is famous for its boxwork calcite formations.  The National Park has a herd of approximately 400 bison, in addition to pronghorns, prairie dogs, turkeys, coyotes, white-tailed deer, and elk.

Learn more in our guidebook A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Museum, cave tours, Rankin Ridge lookout tower, Highland Creek Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The interior of Wind Cave is a constant 53°F, so bring a jacket if you sign up for one of several tours.  For first-timers we recommend the Natural Entrance Tour, which involves entering a vapor lock revolving door and stair steps, not squeezing through the actual tiny natural entrance.  On the Candlelight Tour you carry lightweight metal candle-lanterns, just like 19th-century tourists.  It is only offered in the summer and explores an unlit section of the cave, but no cameras are allowed due to the open flames. 

Best Trail

There are several good trails that traverse the prairie and canyons that can be connected in a variety of loops.  We enjoy backpacking (free permit required) on Highland Creek Trail, where we always see bison.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We have always loved the view of this bridge on Highway 87 over Beaver Creek.  There is also a wooden trestle “Pigtail Bridge” further down the road.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but $12 per person for each cave tour ($30 for Wild Cave)

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but bison are most commonly spotted along Road 5, a graded dirt road through the scenic eastern section of the park bordering Custer State Park (admission fee).

Camping

The NPS runs Elk Mountain Campground or you can backpack camp with a free permit from the visitor center.  The surrounding Black Hills National Forest offers campgrounds and dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

This design we created to celebrate Wind Cave National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Wind Cave contains what percentage of the boxwork calcite formations discovered in the entire world?

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Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Overview

The ruins of this four-story pueblo in Coolidge, Arizona were originally protected as Casa Grande Reservation in 1892, the first time an archaeological site was given this designation by the federal government.  The National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1918 when it was named a National Monument and in 1932 a protective cover was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted to prevent further erosion.  It is hard to believe when looking around the desert today, but the Hohokom farmed the Gila River Valley for over a thousand years until abandoning the area in the mid-1400s.  To accomplish this feat, they dug nearly a thousand miles of irrigation canals measuring 10 feet wide and 10 feet in depth.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins

Must-Do Activity

Its name means “Big House” in Spanish and you will see why when you take the short, flat walk (handicap accessible) around the multi-story ruin and ballcourts.  Built in the early 1300s, the pueblo was only inhabited for about a century.  The NPS runs an excellent museum at the site that shows an introductory film.  The nearby Hohokam Pima National Monument shows up on NPS maps (and is counted in the 420+ units in the NPS system), but the O’odham do not allow access to the site on their reservation.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are pigeons instead of ravens at this NPS site.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping at the NPS site, but options are available nearby in Tonto National Forest and Picacho Peak State Park (right off Interstate 10).

Related Sites

Tonto National Monument (Arizona)

Tuzigoot National Monument (Arizona)

Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Explore More – In 1694, who was the famous Jesuit priest that became the first European to see Casa Grande?

Top 10 African American NPS Sites

Civil Rights leaders and African American pioneers are remembered at numerous sites in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  All February we have been adding posts about sites dedicated to famous Americans in honor of Black History Month.  Below is a ranking of our favorite places that we have visited.  Click here to check out all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This Victorian townhouse served as headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women (1943-66)

9. African Burial Ground National Monument (New York)

A memorial to the African slaves and freedmen that lived in New York City in the 1700s

8. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Virginia)

Tour the 28-room home of an African American philanthropist in Richmond

7. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Be sure to stop at Frederick’s original man cave “The Growlery” after your tour inside his home

6. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

A museum opened here in 2017 to interpret this incredible woman’s life

5. Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Learn about the daily life of a slave in antebellum Virginia who grew up to found Tuskegee Institute

4. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (Kansas)

Thought-provoking exhibits fill the classrooms of an old school in Topeka

3. George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

The story of a Renaissance Man born a slave in southwestern Missouri

2. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Learn about school integration at the visitor center kitty-corner from this architectural beauty

…and finally our #1 African American NPS site:

1. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Civil Rights pioneers in the military are celebrated at this site created in 1998

Honorable Mentions

There are seven new National Monuments created in the last decade dedicated to African American history that we look forward to visiting:

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Alabama)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio)

Freedom Riders National Monument (Alabama)

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (New York)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Reconstruction Era National Monument (South Carolina)

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Park

Overview

Sweet Auburn is a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized and ordained as a minister in Ebenezer Baptist Church.  The National Park Service (NPS) was granted 39 acres here in 1980 to honor the Civil Rights leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.  Following his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, King’s funeral was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 4, 1968.  It is free to visit the NPS museum, birth home, and affiliated Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Highlights

Museum, Ebenezer Baptist Church, MLK birth home, Reflection Pool tomb

Must-Do Activity

Inside the NPS museum, immersive audiovisual bubbles take visitors through the life of this prominent Civil Rights protestor.  A short walk is required to enter his boyhood home (which is wheelchair accessible).  Silence is mandatory while inside.  Outside the neighboring King Center, the Reflection Pool contains the tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, as well as an eternal flame. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

When reviewing this picture, Tiff swore she thought Gandhi was holding a selfie stick and was wearing sunglasses.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

A large, free parking lot is located north of the NPS visitor center.

Camping

Campgrounds are located outside Atlanta at the Corps of Engineers’ Lake Sidney Lanier and Forest Service’s Chattahoochee National Forest.

Related Sites

Martin Luther King, Jr.  National Memorial (District of Columbia)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Explore More – How was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s mother also tragically killed by gunshot in 1974?

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Overview

If you visit Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia, do not miss the other National Park Service (NPS) site in that city.  Maggie L. Walker was an African American philanthropist that started the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 and was the only female bank president in the U.S. at the time.  As a member of the Independent Order of St. Luke since age 14, she also helped establish a newspaper and department store to help the local African American community.

Highlights

Museum, film, house tour, Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark District

Must-Do Activity

The 1930s-era home of this Civil Rights advocate can only be entered on an NPS ranger guided tour.  Walker lived in the oft-expanded, 28-room house from 1904 until her death thirty years later, and almost every piece of furniture in the house is original.  The NPS visitor center at 600 N 2nd Street is very small, but they do show a short film inside the tiny museum, which provides a good introduction before the tour.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The master bathroom includes a bidet, which is not something we have seen on any of the other NPS house tours we have taken (and we have been on a lot!).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is required as there is not a designated lot.

Camping

Pocahontas State Park and Forest offers a campground with running water just outside Richmond, Virginia.

Related Sites

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – The Walker family owned the house until the NPS took ownership of the 1.25-acre property in what year?