Fort Pulaski National Monument

Overview

Located 17 miles east of Savannah, Georgia, Fort Pulaski National Monument makes a great daytrip destination near the coast.  The 5-sided brick fort was built in 1829 along the Savannah River and named for a Polish Count who was killed-in-action during the American Revolution. 

Highlights

Historic fort with a moat, 1856 Cockspur Island Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

The invention of rifled cannons made forts like this (and Fort Jefferson in Florida) obsolete.  Fort Pulaski was claimed by the Confederacy early during the Civil War, but it was surrendered to the Union Army in April 1862 after thirty hours of shelling from nearby Tybee Island.  It has been mostly reconstructed and is safe to explore.  Rifle and cannon firing demonstrations are held throughout the day inside the parade grounds.

Best Trail

A 0.75-mile trail leads from the fort to an overlook of Cockspur Island Lighthouse, where wading birds are often seen.  Only 3 miles down the road, also check out the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, first built in 1773, then reconstructed after the Civil War.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pulaski has 7-foot thick walls, a drawbridge, demilune (earthworks), and even a moat around its perimeter.  The fort’s symmetry makes for beautiful photos, especially inside the powder magazines.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be quite muggy.

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Skidway Island State Park has a campground just outside Savannah, Georgia.

Explore More – On nearby Tybee Island, Battery Garland was part of which decommissioned fort also named for a Revolutionary War casualty?

Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

Overview

Established in 2001, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument covers 12,708 acres of ocean around Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.  The National Monument consists of four separate areas in the Sir Francis Drake Channel and Caribbean Sea.  Its primary access point is in Coral Bay where it touches the island’s shoreline and kayaks can be launched from the road at Borck Creek, Princess Bay, and Haulover Bay.  

Highlights

Borck Creek, Princess Bay, Haulover Bay

Must-Do Activity

We rented a tandem kayak from Crabby’s in Coral Harbor and paddled east into Hurricane Hole to access the monument.  We found the snorkeling to be best around Borck Creek.  Guided kayaking and snorkeling trips can be arranged with concessionaires on the island.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed a large portion of the red mangroves surrounding the bays within the monument.  However, even the dead roots provide structure for coral and fish.  The best way to see this is to snorkel in the shallow water, but be careful not to touch a mangrove jellyfish which can trigger a group response when the first one stings.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

These are the hours for the Virgin Islands National Park visitor center on St. John:

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

No roads in this completely underwater monument, but watch for potholes and oncoming truck traffic if you drive to Princess Bay on Centerline Road from the ferry terminal in Cruz Bay.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

There are overnight moorings (no anchors allowed) for boats in Water Creek and other bays around St. John.  There are currently no campgrounds open on the island.

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Overview

If you seek an otherworldly experience right here on Earth, look no further than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in southeastern Idaho.  In the 1800s, this massive lava flow proved an obstacle to avoid for immigrants on the Oregon Trail.  In 1969 it truly earned its lunar label by serving as a field school on volcanic geology for NASA Apollo astronauts. 

Highlights

Boy Scout Cave, Indian Tunnel, cinder cones, tree molds

Must-Do Activity

The 7-mile loop road is paved and provides parking at several trailheads, including the wheelchair-accessible Devils Orchard Nature Trail.  Cinder cones, lava tubes, and tree molds are some of the unique volcanic features seen from the trails.  If you come here in the winter the loop road closes due to the amount of snow they receive at 6,000 feet elevation, but you can still explore on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

Best Trail

If you cannot make it to the incomparable Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, you can explore a couple of short lava tube caves here.  To explore Indian Tunnel you will need a free permit, but you do not even need a flashlight.  That is not the case inside the pitch black Boy Scout Cave.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Unlike the moon, there is life here despite its blackened, rocky appearance.  Hearty syringa bushes and limber pine trees sprout from cracks in the lava providing food and cover for sage grouse, pika, and other animals. 

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get very hot on the black rocks without any shade.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The 7-mile loop road is paved, but other all roads into the monument require a heavy-duty 4×4 with excellent tires.

Camping

There is a first-come, first-served campground near the visitor center off Highway 93 that provides water, but no RV hookups.  Backpacking is allowed in the wilderness area.

Explore More – In what year did the nearby town of Arco, Idaho became the first community in the world to utilize nuclear power?

Badlands National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is known for its fossils, but not all of the mammals here are extinct.  Bison and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park, in addition to common prairie residents that include pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Highlights

Door Trail, Notch Trail, Conata Basin, Sage Creek Road

Must-Do Activity

Driving the dirt road back to the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground, you will likely encounter a roaming bison herd and several prairie dog towns.  Bighorn sheep and pronghorn can also be found near the road.

Best Trail

The Notch Trail is only 1.5 miles in and out, but is an adventure with a large ladder, badlands, cliffs, and an excellent overlook at the end.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bighorn sheep, many with large curling horns, seem to pose atop the badlands formations, especially around the Pinnacles Overlook.

A big horn sheep in Badlands National Park

Peak Season

Summer, but we prefer the fall when it is less crowded, especially in Sage Creek Primitive Campground.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Badlands Loop Road is paved, and Sage Creek Road and Conata Road are both graded and passable to all vehicles.  Sheep Mountain Table Road in the Stronghold Unit may be more difficult when wet, but otherwise does not require four-wheel drive as designated on the park map.

Camping

Cedar Pass Campground has RV sites and the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is located down a good dirt road on the west side of the park. Backpacking is free and only requires registration at the trailhead.


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

Explore More – How many endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the park in 1994?

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San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Overview

This park protects four historic Spanish missions around San Antonio, Texas, but does not include the famous Alamo (managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas).  Construction began in 1718 and by 1824 secularization was complete and land was distributed among the converted natives.  In 2015, these five missions along the San Antonio River were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Highlights

1720 Mission San José, 1755 Mission Concepción, 1731 Mission Espada, 1731 Mission San Juan Capistrano

Must-Do Activity

At the farthest south of the four missions (San Francisco de la Espada) there is also an interesting acequia system that includes an aqueduct, ditches, and a dam built in 1745, all of which are still used for irrigation purposes.  Mission San Juan Capistrano is covered in white stucco the way they all would have been historically.  Mission Concepción is the farthest north of the four missions and we thought it had the prettiest interior.

Best Trail

San Antonio’s famous River Walk Trail continues from the downtown area all the way south to Mission Espada, not to be confused with the signed Mission Trail driving route.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The beautifully preserved San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission dates back to 1720.  Today this large village complex is a popular location for wedding and graduation photos. 

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved with designated NPS parking lots.

Camping

None

Explore More – What is the historic mission name for the Alamo?