Lowell National Historical Park 

Overview

Built in the 1820s, Lowell, Massachusetts took the idea of a mill town and scaled it up to a factory city.  Utilizing the power of the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, its textile mills grew until its population reached 33,000 by 1850.  The workers were primarily immigrants and predominantly women, many of whom were single and lived in boarding houses like the one you can tour today in Lowell National Historical Park.

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Highlights

Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit, Boot Cotton Mills Museum, canal boat tours, Lower Locks, Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park

Must-Do Activity

It is worth the entry fee to go inside Boott Cotton Mills Museum to hear, feel, and see early-1900s machines still running and learn more about the manufacturing process, living conditions, and labor unrest.

Best Trail

Not a traditional trail, but it is a short walk along the historic canals from the NPS Visitor Center to Boott Cotton Mills Museum, the Lower Locks, and the Commemorative Park to author Jack Kerouac.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hand dug canals from the Concord and Merrimack Rivers powered the Lower Locks in downtown Lowell.

A dam on the canal system in Lowell

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for most sites and NPS Visitor Center (free parking there), but Boott Cotton Mills Museum charges $6 per adult for admission (discount with America the Beautiful pass).

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest has a campground open in summer 13 miles east of Lowell.

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A mill at Lowell

Mill reflections

Tiff in the room with all the looms - she was loving it
Feel the power of these loud machines in action inside Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

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The detail on the model was quite extraordinary

Kerowac's typewriter
There are a few artifacts from the life of hometown hero Jack Kerouac whose books inspired the Beat Generation.

Explore More – How did the “kiss of death” slowly kill many textile workers?

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WONDON WAS HERE

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Catoctin Mountain Park

Overview

This park was purchased in 1935 during the Great Depression as part of a demonstration program to rehabilitate poor agricultural land under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  They worked on a visitor center, campground, rental cabins, and 25 miles of trails now run by the National Park Service.

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Highlights

Chimney Rock, Blue Blazes Whiskey Still, hiking, camping

Must-Do Activity

Hiking.  Also consider a stop just south of Highway 77 at Cunningham Falls State Park (entrance fee) on your visit to Maryland’s mountains.

Best Trail

A loop hike can hit both Chimney Rock and Wolf Rock, though the views from the latter are not quite as sweeping.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chimney Rock offers a stunning overlook of Maryland’s forests.

Chimney Rock

Peak Season

Summer for camping and autumn for changing foliage.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Stay at the historic CCC campground or south of Highway 77 at Cunningham Falls State Park.

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Blue Blazes whiskey still
Tiff at the historic Blue Blazes Whiskey Still from the Prohibition Era

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Some fall colors above 1,400 feet elevation
On top of Wolf Rock

 

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Don’t miss a stop at Cunningham Falls State Park on your visit to Maryland’s mountains.

Explore More –What famous presidential retreat is located within the boundaries of the park, but is not shown on maps and includes plenty of warning signs about stopping anywhere near its driveway?

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WONDON WAS HERE

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Overview

The Appalachian Trail (or A.T.) is one of only three National Scenic Trails that the National Park Service (NPS) includes in its total of 420+ units, despite there being many other affiliated trails (some with their own Visitor Centers).  The trail stretches 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia (in Chattahoochee National Forest‘s Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area) to Mount Katahdin, Maine, crossing 14 states, 6 NPS sites, 8 National Forests, and countless other parks.

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Highlights

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Mount Washington State Park, Baxter State Park

Must-Do Activity

Even if just for a short stretch, gets a taste for the A.T. by following the white rectangular blazes going north or south anywhere along its length.  The trail through Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is especially popular. Check out our blog post on the short hike to the southern terminus of the A.T. at Georgia’s Springer Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest‘s Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area.

Best Trail

The last stretch of the trail ascends Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  My impression from the surly park employees is that they would rather not be the official end of the Appalachian Trail.  For instance, they fined record-setting Scott Jurek for public alcohol consumption and littering when he spilled some champagne celebrating his accomplishment atop Katahdin in 2015.  The funny thing about the A.T. is that it ends (and begins) on top of a mountain where you have to turn around and hike out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The views on top of Katahdin are unsurpassed and you might get to celebrate with a thru-hiker finishing the 2,185-mile journey.

At the top!  The mountain looks similar to many of the 14ers in Colorado

Peak Season

Most thru-hikers go in the summer due to snow.  Baxter State Park closes in the winter, but most of the trail is accessible year round.

Hours

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

Fees

Free to hike, but some parks (like Shenandoah National Park) charge for admission and camping.

Road Conditions

Trailhead access can be both paved and dirt (which is the case in Baxter State Park).  The trail is only paved in a few portions like atop Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Camping

There are more than 160 trail shelters along the A.T. and in some places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park backpackers are required to utilize them.  Otherwise dispersed camping is mostly allowed along the entire length of the trail.

Raven flyover
Raven about the park!
At the peak and end of the AT
Group shot!
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A view of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
A view looking east at the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Explore More – Approximately how many steps must a human take to cover 2,185 miles?

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Overview

Jean Lafitte was a New Orleans “privateer” (a.k.a. pirate) who assisted General Andrew Jackson in the fight with the British after the War of 1812 had officially ended.  In addition to three Acadian Cultural Centers spread throughout southwestern Louisiana and a small visitor center in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the NPS also offers trails and boat tours (fee) through the bayou.

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Highlights

Barataria Preserve, Chalmette Battlefield, French Quarter, boat tours

Must-Do Activity

Every American needs to visit the French Quarter at least once in their life, but also make sure you visit the 24,000-acre Barataria Preserve to experience the bayous of Louisiana, whether you hike or take a boat.

Best Trail

South of downtown New Orleans off Highway 45 in the Barataria Preserve, keep your feet dry by hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look up when hiking in the bayou to find huge spiders, like this golden silk orb-weaver.

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Peak Season

Summers are muggy and buggy, but the park’s many visitor centers are closed only two days per year: Christmas and Mardi Gras.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but in 2016 we camped at Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburbs of New Orleans.

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Learn about the region’s music, food, and culture at the French Quarter visitor center in downtown New Orleans.

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Exhibits in the Old U.S. Mint are free

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Hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

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Spanish moss drapes from the trees in the humid climate of the Mississippi River delta.

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The bayou stretches for miles in the undeveloped areas around New Orleans, Louisiana.

Explore More – Which president is mounted horseback on a statue in Jackson Square?

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WONDON WAS HERE

Mammoth Cave National Park

Overview

Archaeologists have found evidence of exploration dating back 4,000 years when torches of cane were used to light the way.  Mammoth Cave does not get its name from hairy prehistoric mammals, though, but rather from the vast size of its tunnels.  It has been a tourist attraction since the 1700s when slaves served as tour guides, but only became a national park in 1941.

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Highlights

Bottomless Pit and Fat Man’s Misery on the Historic Tour, Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour, Wild Caving Tour

Must-Do Activity

There are many great options to explore the cave, including the Violet City Lantern Tour, but we most enjoyed the Wild Caving Tour.  Make an advanced reservation online to secure your spot (and your blue jumpsuit to keep the mud off your clothes).

Best Trail

There are nearly 80 miles of hiking trails in the park, but start by hiking downhill past the Natural Entrance of Mammoth Cave to the River Styx Spring, a short walk from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Keep your eye out for 2-inch long cave crickets on the Domes and Dripstones Tour.  Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed on the Wild Caving Tour.

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Peak Season

The park receives the majority of its half-million annual visitors in the summer, making December a great time to visit the park (though not all tours are offered).

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/maca/planyourvisit/operatinghoursandseasons.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but cave tours have varying prices.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

A large, shaded campground is located near the visitor center, as well as a smaller one at Houchin’s Ferry (not suitable for trailers or RVs).

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Tiff at the Natural Entrance to the cave where you start the Historic Tour
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Scott on the Historic Tour
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Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour
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Tiff traversing Fat Man’s Missery.

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Ready for the Wild Caving Tour
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This design we created to celebrate Mammoth Cave National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the entire world; how many miles of cave have been explored and mapped?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE

 

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