Fort Monroe National Monument

Overview

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Yorktown, Virginia, there is a brick fort so large it puts all others to shame.  It was held throughout the Civil War by the Union Army, hosting President Lincoln multiple times and providing a refuge for escaped slaves.  Following the War Between the States it served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (his cell is contained within the Casemate Museum).  The fort was not decommissioned by the military until 2011 when it was declared Fort Monroe National Monument, though it still contains private residences.

Tiff with the moat that you could drive over!

Highlights

Casemate Museum, Building #50, moat you can drive over

Must-Do Activity

After you visit the Casemate Museum, walk around the ramparts and the parade ground with its countless live oak trees, including the 500-year-old Algernourne Oak.  Nearby Outlook Beach is popular for swimming, as is North Beach which is also part of the National Monument.

Best Trail

There is a self-guided walking tour that passes Building #50 (the house President Lincoln stayed in) and the Algernourne Oak.  Watch for traffic when you cross the moat through the East Gate.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The author Edgar Allen Poe served here in 1828, so you can pose with him and his raven inside the Casemate Museum.

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Peak Season

Open year round, though the summertime brings more tourists to the Yorktown Peninsula.

Hours

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

Fees

None to walk the grounds and even the Casemate Museum is now free ($3 for guided tours).

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but be aware that most moat-crossing bridges are only one lane wide.

Camping

None in the monument which is filled with private homes, but there are several private campgrounds in the area.

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Drive across the moat to enter the fort.
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Flagstaff Bastion Overlook offers great views of Fort Monroe and the coastline.
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Inside the Casemate Museum.

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Scott with a house that Lincoln stayed at when he was visiting the fort
Building #50 housed Abraham Lincoln during his stays at Fort Monroe during the Civil War.
Tiff with the historic fort church
Live oak trees line the extensive Parade Ground inside Fort Monroe National Monument.

Explore More – The fort was completed in 1834 under the supervision of which famous Civil War General (then a Lieutenant)?

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Overview

One could argue that George Perkins Marsh became the world’s first environmentalist with the publication of his book Man and Nature in 1864.  The sole National Park Service (NPS) site in the state of Vermont is dedicated to his property.  Later owners, Frederick Billings and the Rockefeller family followed through on Marsh’s conservation principles in their management of the farm and forest.  Laurence and Mary Rockefeller donated the estate to the U.S. government in 1992 and the park opened to the public in 1998.

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Highlights

Museum/film in the Carriage Barn Visitor Center, Mansion Tour, Garden Tour, trails

Must-Do Activity

Visitors have to pay for NPS guided tours of the mansion and its original artwork (including paintings by Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt).  There is also an entrance fee at the neighboring Billings Farm and Museum which is run by the non-profit Woodstock Foundation and provides a more hands-on experience that is great for kids, especially after a “do not touch” tour of the mansion.

Best Trail

Frederick Billings bought this family farm to practice the reforestation preached in George Perkins Marsh’s book.  There are 20 miles of trails through the forest around Mount Tom that open year round (though a ski trail pass is required in winter).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Be sure to take a walk through the well-manicured gardens on the property before or after your tour.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

Free to walk the trails, while the wide variety of tours cost extra (discounted with an America the Beautiful pass).  The adjacent Billings Farm is privately managed and charges a separate entry fee.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Silver Lake State Park has campsites with running water.

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Tiff out front of the mansion

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The Rockefellers are in the photo on the right

View from the front porch

Jersey cows at Billings Farm
Park at the adjacent Billings Farm.

Explore More – What are some other National Park Service units donated by the Rockefeller family?

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Top 10 National Park Campgrounds with Running Water

We have not stayed at many campgrounds in National Parks, but enough to have had bad experiences in noisy Zion and Yosemite.  This is our ranking of the top 10 National Park campgrounds with running water (as opposed to those with vault toilets that we ranked separately).

  1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Juniper Campground (50 sites) in the North Unit sits in a grove of mature cottonwood trees on the banks of the Little Missouri River.

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

Mule deer frequent Pinyon Flats Campground (88 sites) which overlooks the dunefield.

  1. Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)

Owens Creek Campground is thickly forested, offering privacy and quiet.

  1. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Chisos Basin Campground has 360° views and its high elevation keeps it cool even in the summer.

  1. Acadia National Park (Maine)

Away from the bustle of Mount Desert Island, we spent a quiet night at the new Schoodic Peninsula Campground.

Everglades

  1. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Long Pine Key Campground is open year round and was almost deserted during our April visit.

  1. Arches National Park (Utah)

Located at the end of the road, Devil’s Garden Campground is a great starting point for a hike to Tapestry or Broken Arch.

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  1. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Probably not as nice in the summer, but we enjoyed our March stay in Twin Peaks Campground with its many trails.

  1. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

Campsites are nicely spread out in Dunewood Campground, inland from Lake Michigan.

…and finally our #1 campground in a National Park!

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  1. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Turkeys and mule deer will also be camping with you in the apple orchards of the Fruita District.

 

Honorable Mention

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

The spots are close together, but it has a great location at the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak and not far from Carlsbad Caverns National Park (without a campground) across the border in New Mexico.

Capitol Reef National Park

Overview

Amongst the phenomenal National Parks of southern Utah, sometimes Capitol Reef gets overlooked.  Stretching along the geologic warp of Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park is colorful in the extreme.  Driving the miles of dirt roads that crisscross the park may be the best way to explore its hidden treasures and no visit should be completed without some back road driving, even if it is the easy drive down Caineville Wash Road to the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

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Highlights

Fruita Historic District, Hickman Bridge, Grand Wash Trail, Strike Valley Overlook

Must-Do Activity

After exploring the Fruita Historic District and Grand Wash Trail, drive across Highway 24 to the petroglyphs and the trailhead for the steep one-mile hike to Hickman Bridge, a massive stone formation cut into a gorgeous canyon.  Be aware, this is the busiest part of the park because it is one of the few places with paved roads.

Best Trail

Leaving from Strike Valley Overlook, the all-day trek through Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers many unnamed arches, slickrock slopes, narrow passages, sheer cliffs, and stunning views as it winds 10 rugged miles to form a lollipop loop.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Strike Valley Overlook offers an amazing perspective on Waterpocket Fold, but requires a high clearance vehicle to drive the last three miles after a long drive down Notom-Bullfrog Road or Burr Trail Road.

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Peak Season

Spring and Fall

Hours

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

Fees

The only fee is on the paved Scenic Drive south of the Fruita Historic District, but the NPS accepts the America the Beautiful pass for that.

Road Conditions

Most of the dirt roads (like Notom-Bullfrog and Caineville Wash) are passable to any vehicle, but high clearance is needed on the last bit to Strike Valley Overlook and to cross the Fremont River on the Cathedral Loop.  However, there is not much infrastructure in this rugged and dry National Park, so you need to be well-prepared in case of emergency.

Camping

The Fruita Historic District offers camping along the Fremont River, close encounters with mule deer, and free apple picking in the fall.  Dry sites are free at Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley Campgrounds.

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The trail climbs steeply one-mile to Hickman Bridge.
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Mule deer near the campground in Fruita Historic District.
Heading into Grand Wash in Canyonlands National Park
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Sun hitting the walls
The Walls of Jericho catch the morning light in Cathedral Valley.
By the arch
Brimhall Natural Bridge.
Tiff checking out some cool sandstone
Upper Muley Twist Canyon offers many unnamed arches, slickrock slopes, narrow passages, sheer cliffs, and stunning views.
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This design we created to celebrate Capitol Reef National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why is the park named Capitol Reef?

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Big Bend National Park

Overview

The park is named for a curve in the Rio Grande which forms the international border with Mexico.  This corner of Texas is not easy to get to, so when you do decide to visit plan on staying for at least a few days.  The weather can be very pleasant in the winter months.

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Highlights

Chisos Basin, Hot Springs, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Located down a short dirt road from Rio Grande Village Campground, a quick walk takes you to a riverside hot springs, a great spot to relax after a day of hiking in the dry Texas desert.  While soaking there, you are literally a stone’s throw from another country.

Best Trail

From Chisos Basin it is a short two mile canyon hike to The Window for a gunsight view to the west.  This trail is especially popular at sunset.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The most popular back road is Grapevine Hills Road which accesses the short Balanced Rock Trail and passes a couple of the most accessible of the 70 primitive backcountry car campsites (which require a permit from a visitor center).

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Peak Season

Spring and fall, but we have had good weather during visits in December and early March.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

We found that many of the dirt roads are passable with a mini-van, but some are four-wheel-drive only, so check with a ranger first.

Camping

There are many choices of campgrounds and backcountry campsites (permit required) throughout the park, but we recommend the Chisos Basin for its roadrunners and nightly ranger programs.

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The trail to Balanced Rock is also beautiful, especially in the golden hours.

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Hot springs on the Rio Grande (with Mexico in the background)
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View looking west through The Window.

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The ruins of Mariscal Mine make for a neat place to explore.
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This design we created to celebrate Big Bend National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What rare migrant bird do birders annually “flock” to see in this park?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

 

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.