Category Archives: Virginia

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

The Shenandoah Valley was the Confederate States of America’s “breadbasket” in the 1860s and thus had strategic importance during the Civil War.  This led to numerous skirmishes and the fight that took place on October 19, 1864 is commemorated at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.  Little of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government, but the National Park Service (NPS) has done a significant amount of work to improve its interpretive signage since our first visit in 2016.

Highlights

Morning Attack Trails, driving tour, Hupp’s Hill Museum, Belle Grove historic plantation

Must-Do Activity

If you need the stamp for your NPS passport, stop at the Visitor Contact Station located in a strip mall in Middletown, Virginia.  There you can pick up a free guide to help you follow the driving tour focused on the October 19, 1864 battle fought at Cedar Creek.  There is also a free app available on the park’s website.  Managed by a non-profit that organizes an annual reenactment of the battle, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park has a museum (fee).  You can also pay to take a tour of the manor house at Belle Grove.

Best Trail

The Morning Attack Trails are located next to the NPS Headquarters off Highway 11 with interpretive signage placed on the 300-yard long 8th Vermont Monument Trail, 0.6-mile Thomas Brigade Loop, and 0.7-mile Hayes-Ramseur Loop.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Available for guided tours (fee) between April and December, the manor house at Belle Grove plantation dates back to 1797.  Union General Philip Sheridan used the house as his headquarters in 1864 and most of his 31,600 troops camped on the property.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

Admission charged for guided tours of Belle Grove manor house and entrance to Hupp’s Hill Museum.

Road Conditions

Some of the roads on the driving tour are unpaved and not recommended for buses or RVs.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Belle Grove was owned by Isaac Hite, Jr. and his wife Nelly, who was the sister of which U.S. President?

Assateague Island National Seashore

Overview

Assateague Island National Seashore was authorized in 1963, twenty years after neighboring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect migratory birds, like the greater snow goose.  In combination with Assateague State Park they protect a 37-mile stretch of undeveloped shoreline that crosses the border of Maryland and Virginia (and is very close to Delaware).  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the National Seashore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge, but there is also an NPS visitor center at the refuge.

Highlights

Museum, film, Assateague Lighthouse, wildlife, kayaking, swimming, beachcombing

Must-Do Activity

Assateague Island’s most renowned residents are its wild ponies, purported to have swum ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon.  Every year since the 1700s, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company has herded the ponies that live on Assateague Island for an auction to raise funds for firefighting.  This annual event was chronicled in the classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (which made our Top 10 NPS Novels list).  The ponies can often spotted by hikers on the Woodland Trail, a three-mile loop hike.  Nearby there is also a free NASA visitor center at Wallops Flight Facility where they launch rockets.

Best Trail

We mentioned the Woodland Trail above, but this park is all about walking the beach, especially the 10 miles of wild beach only accessible by foot within Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The first Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1833, while the structure seen today was completed in 1867.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but with a permit you can drive 13 miles of beach on the Maryland side and five miles on the Virginia side.  It takes about 1.2 hours to drive the highways between the north and south bridges to Assateague Island.

Camping

On the Maryland side, the NPS operates two campgrounds with cold showers, but the one in Assateague State Park offers hot showers.  Two oceanside backpacking camps and four bayside kayak-in camps are also available by permit.

Related Sites

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Not just a safe haven for wild ponies, where in the National Seashore do seahorses anchor to underwater grasses?

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?

Booker T. Washington National Monument

Overview

Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 on this small plantation farm in Hardy, Virginia and freed shortly after the Confederate army’s surrender at nearby Appomattox Court House.  He went on to earn an education and found the groundbreaking Tuskegee Institute in 1881.  Rather than dwelling on his horrible past, Washington was inspired to work hard and maintain an indefatigable spirit.  Later in life he wrote in his book Up From Slavery: “There was no period of my life that was devoted to play… From the time that I can remember anything, almost every day of my life has been occupied in some kind of labor.”

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed buildings, farm animals, Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail

Must-Do Activity

A bronze bust of Booker T. Washington is the first thing visitors see when they approach the National Monument.  The National Park Service (NPS) has reconstructed several buildings on the farm in a style consistent with the 1850s, as seen on the quarter-mile self-guided trail.  The NPS keeps livestock similar to that which was here at the time, including pigs, cattle, chickens, turkeys, and ducks.  This site demonstrates that antebellum life in the South was not all aristocrats on large plantations. 

Best Trail

The Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail winds 1.5 miles through the forest and fields.

Instagram-worthy Photo

None of the original buildings survive, but several have been reconstructed, including the birthplace cabin of Booker T. Washington.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Roanoke Mountain Campground is run by the NPS on the Blue Ridge Parkway 19 miles northwest of the monument.

Related Sites

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site (Alabama)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Washington graduated from what school for ex-slaves in 1875, which inspired him to establish Tuskegee Institute in Alabama?

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Overview

If the name Appomattox Court House rings a bell, that is because in U.S. History class you learned it was where the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.  There was a courthouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, but that is not where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed surrender papers; actually it was the home of Wilmer McLean.  In 1893, the McLean house was completely disassembled to be turned into an offsite museum, but was later brought back and rebuilt by the National Park Service (NPS).  The county jail is one of several other restored buildings in the park originally designated a National Monument in 1935 and changed to a National Historical Park in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed McLean House, guided tours

Must-Do Activity

The restored courthouse now serves as the NPS visitor center and museum, from where visitors can start their walk through Meeks General Store, Clover Hill Tavern, the county jail, and other period buildings.  Much of the furniture from the McLean House was taken as souvenirs by Union officers, as well as a doll owned by 7-year-old Lula McLean that was not returned until 1992.

Best Trail

A four-mile hiking trail connects the Village of Appomattox Court House with the April 9, 1865 battlefield and the two General’s headquarters.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You have to take a photo inside the restored room in the McLean house where Lee surrendered his army of 9,000 men, essentially ending the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but the campground at Holliday Lake State Park is only 12 miles away.

Related Sites

Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – Seven regiments of African American soldiers in the Union Army participated in the Battle of Appomattox Court House; how many men is that?