All posts by Raven About The Parks

Shenandoah National Park

Overview

At one time Shenandoah National Park was entirely private owned, then in the 1930s the government of Virginia went about “procuring” the land for a grand National Park in the east.  These mountains are renowned for their colorful fall foliage, which peaks in October, when 18% of annual visitors arrive.  If you are looking to avoid traffic in a park only 70 miles from Washington, D.C., we recommend coming in February when almost every park amenity is closed.

Highlights

Skyline Drive, Stony Man, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag Mountain

Must-Do Activity

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to form the backbone of this narrow National Park.  Driving at the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, it takes 3 hours to drive in its entirety if you do not stop once.  But with 75 overlooks and 513 miles of trails to choose from, who would want to do that?  Skyline Drive is paralleled by 101 miles of the famous 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Best Trail

The trailhead for Old Rag Mountain is located east of the park off Highway 231 (not Skyline Drive), but it is the most popular hike.  The challenging route over slick rock faces and narrow corridors provides wonderful views of the ridgeline that comprises Shenandoah National Park.  Due to the number of hikers, it is recommended you complete a 7.1-mile loop by connecting Ridge Trail with Saddle Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Throughout the park there are numerous trails to waterfalls, though some may run dry in the summer.  The shortest hike, at 1.4 miles roundtrip, leads to 70-foot tall Dark Hollow Falls. 

Peak Season

Summer, plus mid-October for fall foliage

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The park’s paved backbone Skyline Drive is occasionally closed after major snowstorms.  Located at Mile 32 (measured from Port Royal, Virginia in the north), the 670-foot long Mary’s Rock Tunnel allows a maximum vehicle height of 12 feet, 8 inches.

Camping

There are four seasonal campgrounds located along Skyline Drive and backpacking is allowed with a free permit.  West of the Shenandoah River Valley, George Washington National Forest also provides camping opportunities.

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

Explore More – What percentage of the 199,218 acres in Shenandoah National Park is designated Wilderness?

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Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Overview

This site in Deer Lodge, Montana commemorates the late-1800s lifestyle of cattle barons and cowboys.  In 1866, Conrad Kohrs bought this ranch from Johnny Grant and went on to amass a huge cattle herd that grazed across 10-million acres of public land from Colorado to Canada.  Today this remains a working ranch with the sounds and smells of horses, cattle, and poultry.

Highlights

Working cattle ranch, living history demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

There is no admission fee and a free guided tour is offered inside the large ranch house originally built by Johnny Grant in 1862, with a brick addition doubling its size in 1890.  After the tour, you can practice your roping skills on cattle dummies.  Be sure to stop by the blacksmith shop to ask the volunteer there about all the different types of horseshoes on display.  Inside the Buggy Shed you can see the elaborate harnesses once used on the huge Belgian draft horses that still work here at the ranch.

Best Trail

You step back into the 1800s when you walk the quarter-mile trail from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  A self-guided walking tour enters 15 buildings with displays on the history of cowboys, barbwire, branding irons, and so much more.  There are a total of 7 miles of walking paths on the property, including a nature trail along Cottonwood Creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you explore, keep your eye out for livestock and cowboys on horseback.  It was calving season for the Herefords when we visited in mid-May.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Deer Lodge, Montana, and Lost Creek state Park offers a primitive campground 25 miles away.

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Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Overview

Rather than blast a canal through the mountains, this unique railroad carried sectioned canal boats 36 miles up and over the Alleghenies on a series of 10 inclined planes run by stationary steam engines.  It only ran between 1834 and 1854 before becoming obsolete when the Pennsylvania Railroad provided continuous service to the Ohio River Valley.

Highlights

Museum, film, Engine House 6, Lemon House, Skew Arch Bridge

Must-Do Activity

After watching the film in the visitor center, follow the boardwalk through a stone quarry to Engine House 6 Exhibit Building to see a life-sized model of a stationary steam engine and its cable system.  Continue on to Lemon House on Cresson Summit, built around 1832 to serve as a home and tavern. 

Best Trail

From the Engine House 6 Exhibit Building, you can walk a trail through the forest or the mowed incline less than half a mile down to Skew Arch Bridge, or you can drive there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Skew Arch Bridge was the only road bridge purposely built along the portage.  The “skew” comes in because in 1833 the bridge design was changed to accommodate a bend in the Huntington, Cambria, and Indiana Turnpike Road.  The arch is 22 feet tall and demonstrates the excellence of stone masonry at the time as it was built without mortar.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Prince Gallitzin State Park offers a campground with showers 20 miles northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

Explore More – What is Staple Bend Tunnel famous for being the first example of with railroads in the United States?

Top 10 Novels Set in Alaska

In our previous list of the Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Alaska, we explained that books about Alaska are so plentiful they have inspired their own genre: Alaskana.  This is our list of our favorite novels set in the state. 

10. Heartbroke Bay by Lynn D’Urso (2010)

Based on a true story, this is an interesting fictional account of a woman living at Lituya Bay before the catastrophic tsunami of 1899.

9. Alaska: A Novel by James A. Michener (1988)

Michener’s epic style meshes well with this gigantic state.

8. A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow (1992)

The first in a series of mysteries set in a fictional rendering of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park with the unforgettable heroine Kate Shugak.

7. Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner (2004)

Kantner grew up in “the bush,” which is where he set this story.

6. Sailor Song by Ken Kesey (1992)

The author of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest set this comedic novel in Southeast Alaska.

5. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

A supernatural tale of two homesteaders in Alaska who discover a young girl in their yard circa 1920.

4. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

Read about this alternate reality after you visit Sitka to truly picture the story’s setting.

3. The Sea Runners by Ivan Doig (1982)

Based on a true story of four Scandinavian men who escaped indentured servitude in Russian Alaska in 1853.

2. Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun by Velma Wallis (1996)

A traditional Athabaskan story is retold exceptionally well by the author who also wrote Two Old Women.

1. The End of the Road by Tom Bodett (1989)

Bodett wrote a series of hilarious novels set in Homer in the 1980s that have stood the test of time.

Honorable Mention

To Build a Fire and Other Stories by Jack London (1908)

Many of these classic tales are set in Canada’s Yukon Territory, but they could just as well be in Alaska.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Overview

At 20,320 feet above-sea-level, Denali is the highest point in North America.  It is also the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit.  Mt. Everest starts from a 13,000-foot plateau, while Denali’s base is only 700 feet.  The park is also home to an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including our favorite, the hoary marmot.

Highlights

Denali peak, Sled Dog Demonstration, Mt. Healy Overlook Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The summit of Denali is only visible 10% of the summer, so flightseeing is the most successful option to the see the peak.  While in the park, it is better to focus on the wildlife, so bring a good camera with a zoom lens for moose, caribou, Dall sheep, gray wolves, and brown bears.  Your best chance to see wildlife is to buy a shuttle bus ticket online or at the Wilderness Access Center.  We recommend you only take the eight hour roundtrip to Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66) and spend some time hiking the tundra, instead of going all the way to Wonder Lake (Mile 85).

Best Trail

Most of the park is managed as wilderness so there are no trails, but around the park entrance there are a few.  We recommend climbing as high on the steep trail up Mt. Healy as you can for unsurpassed views of the mountainous area.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Even if the summit of Denali is hidden, the tundra scenery here is incredibly colorful, especially around the bus stop for Polychrome Overlook (Mile 47).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no admission fee; however, visitors can only get past Mile 15 of the Park Road on a tour bus or with campground or backcountry reservations.

Road Conditions

The Park Road is paved to the Mile 15 Savage River Check Station, past which personal vehicles are not allowed.  The dirt road is groomed, but it can get bumpy in the back of the bus.

Camping

Riley Creek Campground is open year round, a rarity in Alaska.  A reservation at Teklanika River Campground allows you to drive your own vehicle to Mile 29 partway into the park.  


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

Explore More – How many earthquakes are recorded annually in Denali National Park and Preserve?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.