Cape Lookout National Seashore


There are no roads in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, but vehicles can drive the beach nearly the entire 56-mile length of these Outer Banks barrier islands.  A passenger ferry leaves from Beaufort, North Carolina to access the Shackleford Banks where feral horses reside.  Cape Lookout is on the South Core Banks, a great spot for camping, surf fishing, kite flying, and beachcombing.  This island is accessible aboard a passenger ferry from Harkers Island and a vehicle ferry from Davis.



Historic lighthouse, undeveloped beaches, seashells, beach camping

Must-Do Activity

If you enjoy beach camping, then you must spend at least one night on the islands.  Go beachcombing in the morning after watching the sunrise light up Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Best Trail

There are boardwalks around the ferry landing and lighthouse, otherwise just walk the beaches.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The majestic 163-foot tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse (wearing argyle) is the icon of this national seashore and looks best at sunset and sunrise.

The lighthouse sticking out of the low fog
Find this photo and many others for sale on Imagekind.

Peak Season

Summer (if there is not a hurricane forecast)



Free to visit and camp, $16 roundtrip per adult for passenger ferry, sometimes a charge to climb to the top of the lighthouse

Road Conditions

Paved to the ferry docks in Beaufort and Harkers Island, sandy on outer islands (4×4 required)


Camping is free on the beaches, but unless you have your own boat you will need to pay for a ferry ride out there.  The oceanfront section of beach near Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to vehicles, making it perfect for backpackers.

Our campsite


Pelican at sunrise

Tiff with her collection of shells she found
Seashell hunting out here is great; and yes, the National Park Service allows you to take a reasonable amount home.

Short billed dowitchers

Lighthouse reflection

Explore More – When was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse built?



Fort Stanwix National Monument


After FDR protected this very first historic site within the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1935, Fort Stanwix was finally reconstructed in the 1970s after demolishing the existing buildings in downtown Rome, New York.  Visitors today will surely agree it was worth the effort, as were the recent updates in the excellent Visitor Center.



Reconstructed fort, best historical museum in the NPS System

Must-Do Activity

The NPS museum inside the Marinus Willett Visitor Center is superb with videos and kiosks providing four different characters’ perspectives on the events of the American Revolution in Upstate New York.  There are also costumed reenactors inside the fort, another reason why this National Monument is an example of historical interpretation at its best.

Best Trail

A short trail follows a portion of the Oneida Carrying Place and another leads to the historic Erie Canal.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Viewed from the drawbridge, you get an up-close look at the parapet and fraise (sharpened wooden stakes) of the reconstructed Fort Stanwix.


Peak Season

Spring to fall




Road Conditions

All paved, but parking is limited


None within the 16-acre monument, but Delta Lake State Park is only 6 miles away.


The free museum inside the Marinus Willett Center is first rate.
Fort Stanwix was originally built by the British during the French and Indian War


Americans rebuilt the abandoned fort during the Revolutionary War and survived a 21 day siege in 1777
Something in this photo is not historically accurate.

Explore More – The portage called the Oneida Carrying Place (one to 6 miles depending upon water levels) connected which two important waterways?



Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in a National Park

The only thing that is nearly as fun as being in a National Park is reading about one. Here is a list of our 10 favorite non-fiction books set specifically in one unit of the National Park Service System. Our next list will include those that cover multiple parks.

  1. Lost in My Own Backyard: A Walk in Yellowstone National Park

by Tim Cahill (2004)

Yellowstone National Park

There are many great books written about this oldest of all National Parks (including the bestselling Death in Yellowstone), but none is as funny as the one written by this globetrotting travel writer.

  1. A Naturalist in Alaska

by Adolph Murie (1961)

Denali National Park

Wildlife biologist Adolph Murie was invited to Alaska by the National Park Service in 1939-40 to study the diverse species inhabiting Mt. McKinley National Park (as it was known at the time).

  1. The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

by Rinker Buck (2015)

Oregon National Historical Trail

Two mules pulled a wagon with two brothers across the modern American West to Oregon: hilarity ensued and history relived.

  1. The Last Season

by Eric Blehm (2006)

Kings Canyon National Park

A well-researched investigation into the disappearance of a National Park Ranger in the rugged backcountry of California’s Sierra Nevadas.

  1. The Everglades: River of Grass

by Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)

Everglades National Park

Unfortunately, her name may be more known as a high school today, but this woman’s efforts helped to protect this park from South Florida developers.

  1. The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring

by Richard Preston (2007)

Redwood National Park

Whoever said scientists can’t have any fun conducting research needs to read this exciting book about the ecologists that climb 300 feet up redwood trees in California.

  1. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness

by Edward Abbey (1968)

Arches National Park

Many National Park Rangers have written memoirs, but this is by far the best one. Written about a time before the red rock wonderland around Moab, Utah became the zoo it is today.

  1. One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey

by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke (1973)

Lake Clark National Park

The journal of Richard Proenneke who homesteaded a remote part of the Alaska Peninsula before Lake Clark National Park and Preserve was created around it in 1980. There is also an excellent documentary of the same title.

  1. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

by Kevin Fedarko (2013)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

An epic combination of history and biography about the men and women who run the Colorado River through Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

…and finally our number one Non-Fiction Book Set in a National Park:


  1. The Jewel Cave Adventure: Fifty Miles of Discovery in South Dakota

by Herb and Jan Conn (1977)

Jewel Cave National Monument

The last frontier may well be beneath our feet. This true adventure of cave exploration is written in a very matter-of-fact way, yet is still a page turner.

Honorable Mention

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson (1998)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail is counted as one of the 417 units in the National Park Service System, and this is the funniest book ever written about backpacking it (or part of it).

Bandelier National Monument


One of 13 national monuments in New Mexico, this archaeological site is located in a beautiful forested canyon at 6,000 feet elevation outside Los Alamos.  Ancestral Puebloans inhabited Frijoles Canyon from AD 1150 to 1550, building villages and carving rooms out of the soft volcanic tuff, much like in Cappadocia, Turkey.



Ruins, cavates, Alcove House, Upper Falls, Painted Cave

Must-Do Activity

Climb 140 feet up ladders and steep steps to Alcove House cliff dwelling for superlative views of the canyon.

Best Trail

After exploring the ruins, be sure to hike 1.5 miles to Upper Falls downstream from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The National Park Service has installed some awesome, authentic-looking ladders to access the cavates.


Peak Season

Summer when a shuttle is required from Los Alamos, New Mexico due to limited parking



$25 per group or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Paved, but visitors are required to take a shuttle from Los Alamos between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the summer (May 17 – October 17)


Juniper Campground has 94 sites, running water, and is open most of the year.  Its 70 miles of trails also make the park popular for backpacking, which requires a zoned camping permit.


Scott at the entryway for a large dwelling
Scott inside a cavate
Tiff a few rooms down
Tiff inside a cavate

Tiff climbing down

16-May New Mexico 247

The tuff looks like Swiss cheese; maybe that’s what attracted Swiss anthropologist Adolph Bandelier.
Upper Falls is only a 1.5 mile hike downstream from the visitor center

Explore More – When did the giant volcano erupt that created the 16-mile wide Valles Caldera and deposited hundreds of feet of volcanic ash that formed tuff?



Thomas Edison National Historical Park


American inventor Thomas Edison still holds the record with 1,093 U.S. patents awarded during his lifetime. Most of those came while running the massive laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey from 1887 until his death in 1931. After perfecting the incandescent lightbulb in 1879, it was here he employed hundreds to work on improving his phonograph, motion picture camera, alkaline storage battery, and Portland cement (one of his most profitable ventures). The park also includes the family estate, Glenmont, located one-mile away (a tour ticket is required to enter the house).



Historic laboratories and workshops, inventions on display, house tour

Must-Do Activity

The multi-story Main Laboratory is handicap accessible and contains 400,000 artifacts from Edison’s prolific career. On display are some of the world’s first electric coffee-makers, waffle irons, and toasters marketed by his company Edicraft in the 1920s.

Best Trail

A self-guided walk around the grounds of Glenmont includes Edison’s gravesite.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the West Orange laboratory is a replica of “Black Maria,” the world’s first movie studio originally built in 1893 on a track that allowed it to pivot for better lighting.


Peak Season

Open year round, but not every day of the week



$15 per adult or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved



Entrance to the park

Tiff in the heavy machinery lab

Inside Edison's office/library

Tiff at the West Orange lab

Tiff with Thomas
Edison famously said “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Explore More – On the day of Thomas Edison’s funeral, how was homage paid nationwide?