Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Overview

Along a segment of the Arkansas River serving as a border with Oklahoma, Fort Smith is a lovely 35-acre park surrounded by a bustling downtown and busy railroad track.  The first fort at this site was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears.  A second fort was built nearby in 1838, occupied by both sides during the Civil War, then closed in 1871 when it became a Federal Court.

Highlights

Museum, restored courtroom, “Hell-on-the-Border” jail, Arkansas River

Must-Do Activity

The exhibits here demonstrate the harsh prison conditions and tell harrowing stories of frontier life that will make you cringe.  Do not miss the “Hell-on-the-Border” jail in the basement and the restored courtroom.  Outside, a reproduction of the gallows and several cannon emplacements provide a counterpoint to the idyllic riverfront setting. 

Best Trail

A half-mile trail crosses the railroad tracks to the banks of the Arkansas River.  The scenic beauty of the shoreline at sunset belies the turbulent history of this place, including its connection with the Trail of Tears, designated a National Historic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take a photo in the painstakingly restored courtroom where Judge Isaac C. Parker heard 12,000 criminal cases during his 21 years on the bench in the late 1800s.  He sentenced 160 persons to hang, and 79 executions took place right here at Fort Smith.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and there is free parking on site.

Camping

Two miles north of Barling, Arkansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages a campground on the Arkansas River.

Related Sites

Arkansas Post National Memorial (Arkansas)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Explore More – Fort Smith was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears, but what American Indian tribe already inhabited this region?

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Overview

When you park at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site you are in Montana, but as you walk to the fort you cross into North Dakota, changing time zones from Mountain to Central Time.  Strategically located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post lasted from 1828 to 1867 when it was sold to the U.S. Army who dismantled it to build Fort Buford two miles downstream.  Fort Union primarily traded with Plains Indians for bison hides, since beaver skin top hats were out of fashion by that point.

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Fort Buford State Historic Site, Missouri-Yellowstone River confluence

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the reconstructed Bourgeois (field agent) House, one of several buildings and palisades rebuilt between 1985 and 1991 using rot-resistant fir instead of the original cottonwood.  After touring Fort Union, drive to Fort Buford State Historic Site where a visitor center (fee) opened at the two rivers’ confluence in August 2003 as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration.

Best Trail

The Bodmer Overlook Trail climbs one mile to a point where Swiss painter Karl Bodmer sketched the fort in 1833.  The trailhead is located north of Highway 1804.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The colorful Bourgeois House is where the trading post manager lived.  A four-day fur-trade rendezvous is held annually at the park in June.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at the NPS site, but there is an entrance fee at Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is a campground at nearby Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Explore More – What famous ornithologist stayed at the fort in 1843?

Top 10 blog Posts from Our Second 100

To celebrate reaching the milestone of our 200th blog posts, we are linking to our top 10 posts from 101-200 based on number of likes. Click here to see our Top 10 from the first 100 (or here if you want to see all of our Top 10 Lists). Thank you to our readers for continuing to inspire us to visit new National Park Service (NPS) units and share the wonders with you all. We are planning a roadtrip to the southern U.S. in September to visit some new NPS sites.

Our first hardcopy guidebook to the National Parks was released in November 2019!

10. Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

9. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

8. Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

7. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

6. Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

5. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

4. Acadia National Park (Maine)

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

2. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

…and finally the #1 most popular blog post from our second 100:

1. Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Honorable Mention

White Sands National Park (New Mexico, renamed December 20, 2019)

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Overview

More than 200 years ago, Fort McHenry survived a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which did not officially become the U.S. national anthem until 1931).  The flag flying the night of September 13, 1814 measured 42 x 30 feet!  It is no wonder he was stirred while watching “the rockets’ red glare” from aboard a U.S. truce ship under British guard floating in the Chesapeake Bay outside Baltimore, Maryland.  The Congreve rocket was a new type of weapon at the time, and, luckily for the Americans, very inaccurate.

Geese flyover!

Highlights

Museum, film, fort, twice daily flag changes

Must-Do Activity

Fort McHenry went on to serve as a temporary prison during the Civil War, when its many cannons were pointed towards the city of Baltimore so Confederate sympathizers would not secede from the Union.  During World War I, the fort served as a veterans’ hospital before being designated a National Park Service (NPS) unit in 1925.  Later it was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the only park with this unique distinction. 

Best Trail

Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is not a hiking trail so much as it is a collection of sites related to the War of 1812 in and around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our flag is still there.  This is officially the only NPS unit where the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day.  Daily flag changes take place at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., weather permitting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved to the designated NPS parking lot.

Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park is located west of Baltimore, Maryland.

Related Sites

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Explore More – When a new state is added to the union, the newly redesigned flag is first flown over Fort McHenry, so when did that last occur?

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