All posts by Raven About The Parks

Russell Cave National Monument

Overview

Humans have been visiting Russell Cave in northeast Alabama since about the time its limestone roof collapsed creating an entrance around 10,000 years ago.  A timeline of human invention was preserved in the floor of this hunting camp for millennia, from atlatls to bows, pottery to pump drills.  The park rangers were the friendliest we encountered during Pretirement and often offer demonstrations of prehistoric tools and weapons.

Highlights

Museum with American Indian artifacts, boardwalk to cave entrance, nature trails

Must-Do Activity

There are a select few artifacts displayed on site in the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.  From there a short boardwalk leads through the forest to an overlook of the archaeological digs at the cave entrance, which you cannot enter. 

Best Trail

Two nature trails (0.6 and 1.2 miles long) split off from the boardwalk to explore the surrounding hills.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This cave is not famous for its pretty cave formations, but for its incredible archaeological record.  If you want to see beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, I recommend you head west to the impressive Cathedral Caverns State Park.

Peak Season

Summer, when it can be muggy and buggy.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ruca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but RVs are not recommended on Highway 156 if entering from the north.

Camping

DeSoto State Park has a campground and primitive camping is allowed at three sites in nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Explore More – How far down into the cave floor did archaeologists dig in the 1950s?

Top 10 National Monuments

National Monument is the most common designation in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  Many of our favorites among the roughly 130 National Monuments are wild places managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.  The NPS typically has a more developed, tourist-friendly infrastructure with visitor centers, trails, and tours.  Here is a ranking of our top 10 National Monuments of the 88 run by the NPS.

10. John Day Fossil Beds

Fantastic colors in the hills of Oregon

9. Organ Pipe Cactus

28 species of cacti in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

8. Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island and Lady Liberty make an unforgettable day trip

7. Cedar Breaks

High-elevation amphitheater of red rock in Utah

6. Fort Stanwix

An exact 1750s replica surrounded by Rome, New York

5. Timpanogos Cave

Make the climb to see incredibly delicate helictites in Utah

4. White Sands

These sledding hills in New Mexico could be the next National Park

3. Bandelier

Climb into these cliff dwellings in northern New Mexico

2. Jewel Cave

Tour the world’s third longest cave under South Dakota

…and finally our #1 National Monument managed by the NPS:

1. Lava Beds

Explore below ground in this remote section of northern California

 

Honorable Mention

World War II Valor in the Pacific

Pearl Harbor is one part of this diverse monument

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Overview

East of Provo, Utah in Uinta National Forest lies tiny Timpanogos Cave National Monument.  Accessing the cave requires a guided tour (fee) and a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, but the destination is completely worth the effort as it has an amazing collection of helictites and other cave formations.

Highlights

Cave tour, Canyon Nature Trail, Alpine Scenic Drive, Timpanogos Peak, camping

Must-Do Activity

The cave tour actually takes you through three caves that were connected by manmade tunnels after the National Park Service (NPS) took over management in 1922.  It is a bit strange to find yourself turning a door handle when inside of a mountain, though. 

Best Trail

Most caves run by the NPS have an elevator, but Timpanogos Cave requires a one-and-a-half mile hike that climbs 1,092 feet, which might not sound too bad until you consider it starts above 5,600 feet in elevation.  The paved trail has many scenic overlooks at which you can stop to catch your breath.  Canyon Nature Trail is a flatter option near the visitor center if you are not hiking up to the caves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Timpanogos Cave has the best collection of gravity-defying helictite crystals we have ever seen. 

Peak Season

Summer, closed October to May

Hours

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

Fees

There is an entry fee ($6) for Alpine Scenic Drive through American Fork Canyon, which is covered by the America The Beautiful Pass.  Tickets ($8 per person) for cave tours often sell out on weekends, so reservations are recommended (they can be made 30 days in advance).

Road Conditions

Alpine Scenic Drive is paved, but parking is limited at the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds (both developed and primitive) along the 20-mile Alpine Scenic Drive through Uinta National Forest.  They can fill up due to its proximity to Salt Lake City, Utah, but backpacking is free and does not require a permit.

Explore More – How do helictites form in twisted shapes that defy gravity?

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Overview

Broadway in Skagway, Alaska still looks much like it did during the 1897 gold rush, lined with boardwalks and bustling with activity, especially when a cruise ship is docked.  Paved streets instead of mud are one major difference between now and when 30,000 stampeders came here aboard ships from Seattle.  The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the old railway depot and the NPS owns several other historic structures including the Mascot Saloon and Jefferson “Soapy” Smith’s Parlor.  The NPS also runs a free museum in downtown Seattle, Washington inside the historic Cadillac Hotel.

Highlights

Mascot Saloon, Gold Rush Cemetery, Lower Reid Falls, Chilkoot Trail, Cadillac Hotel museum (Seattle)

Must-Do Activity

Start at the visitor center with the 25-minute introductory film then wander the boardwalks up Broadway to see historic false-front buildings that never burned since the 1897 gold rush.  If you want to learn more about the infamous “Soapy” Smith and laugh really hard, then I recommend purchasing tickets to the Days of ’98 Show offered multiple times daily in the summer. 

Best Trail

The NPS cooperatively manages the Chilkoot Trail with Parks Canada who issues all permits (in Skagway) for backpacking the 33-mile trail.  The trailhead is in the ghost town of Dyea, about 12 miles west of bustling Skagway.  Almost every trekker takes 3 to 5 days to hike one way into Canada and return on the White Pass Railroad.  It is cheaper to only hike the U.S. side and spend two nights at the always empty Pleasant Camp.

Instagram-worthy Photo

During the winter of 1897-98, over 30,000 people hauled one-ton of food and gear per person over the 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Yukon Territory.  Photograph the 100% slope of the “Golden Stairs” in the summer, as it can be nearly impossible to access in winter.

Peak Season

Summer due to cruise ships and the fact that the rest of the year experiences heavy snowfall.

Hours

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

Fees

It is free to explore downtown Skagway’s buildings, but overnight backpacking on the Chilkoot Trail has fees ($20.30 per person for U.S.-side only) and is limited to only 50 permits per day to cross the border into Canada.

Road Conditions

Paved to Skagway and the dirt road to Dyea is good enough for all vehicles.

Camping

There is a car campground in Dyea.  Specific backcountry campsite permits (like Sheep Camp) can fill up early.

Explore More – How many times did the average stampeder have to ascend the Golden Stairs to haul one-ton of food and gear over 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass?

Grand Canyon National Park

Overview

Grand Canyon National Park is generally considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.   Billions of years of geologic history have been laid bare by the cutting power of the Colorado River.  It is cliché but true, you simply have to see this icon with your own eyes.  It can be overwhelming.  So can the crowds on the South Rim, but those tend to thin out if you hike a mile or two down a trail.  If you have the time during the summer months, be sure to drive five hours over the forested Kaibab Plateau to reach the North Rim (which is only 10 miles away as the raven flies). 

Highlights

Desert View Watchtower, Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Phantom Ranch, Toroweap Overlook, whitewater rafting the Colorado River

Must-Do Activity

Growing up in Arizona, Scott used to visit this park frequently, but he feels he never got to know it until he hiked to the bottom in 2016.  Even if you only go a couple thousand feet down in elevation on the Grandview Trail or busy Bright Angel Trail, it will give you a new perspective on the canyon.

Best Trail

We day hiked the 18 miles from South Kaibab Trailhead (7200 feet elevation) down to Phantom Ranch (2500 feet) where we filled up with water on the way back up to Bright Angel Trailhead (6800 feet, with multiple water stations on the trail).  Backcountry permits can turn this into a multiple day trek, but then you have to carry all your gear out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is an arduous 90-mile one-way drive down a (mostly) dirt road to access Toroweap Overlook, but there is a reason photos from this fantastic overlook show up everywhere since the canyon walls are nearly vertical here.

Peak Season

Summer when it is very hot inside the canyon, though it can also be busy around the spring, fall, and December holidays.

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Most roads are paved, and except for the very end of the 90-mile long graded dirt road to Toroweap Overlook is accessible to all passenger vehicles.

Camping

The park has campgrounds on both rims, but you can also find dispersed camping in the neighboring Kaibab National Forest.

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

Explore More – Was Marguerite Henry’s book character Brighty based on a real burro?

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