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Voyageurs National Park

Overview

Water dominates Voyageurs National Park on the border of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.  So much so that many of the land formations were never given names by the French fur traders (or “voyageurs”) that navigated these waters beginning in the late-1700s.  It was a hard life, paddling large birch bark canoes full of supplies up to sixteen hours per day.  Today the park is famous for its manmade destinations, including Kettle Falls Hotel, Hoist Bay Resort, and the unique sculptures at Ellsworth Rock Gardens. 

Highlights

Kettle Falls, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Hoist Bay Resort, Kab-Ash Trail

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to get out on the water via a ranger-led tour or take your own boat to one of the shoreline campsites inaccessible by car (permit required).  Reservations can be made for the free ranger-guided North Canoe Voyage that lets passengers paddle a 26-foot canoe, just like the “voyageurs” of old.  For more information, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Best Trail

There are several short trails that lead from the visitor centers at Rainy Lake and Ash River, in addition to the 28-mile long Kab-Ash Trail that allows backpacking. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

On Namakan Lake, you can explore the remains of Hoist Bay Resort, which was a logging camp before it became a vacation destination.  It feels haunted in the evening, exploring the empty ruins while listening to the eerie calls of common loons.

Peak Season

Summer, but be prepared for bugs.

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for camping frees

Road Conditions

The major access roads to NPS visitor centers are paved, plus in the winter there is a designated 7-mile ice road over Rainy Lake.

Camping

There are 214 boat-in campsites available first-come, first-served with a NPS permit (reservations available).  There are several campgrounds located on the mainland just outside the park boundaries.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

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

Explore More – When did the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company operate at Hoist Bay on Namakan Lake?

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Sitka National Historical Park

Overview

Sitka National Historical Park offers a good introduction to the Russian and native influences on this region, as well as a forested trail past beautifully carved totem poles.  Created in 1910, it was the first National Park Service (NPS) site in Alaska, nearly 50 years before statehood.

Highlights

1843 Russian Bishop’s House, Russian Orthodox cathedral, totem poles

Must-Do Activity

Two miles of trails wind through the spruce forest passing more than a dozen totem poles and the site of Kiks.ádi Fort where the 1804 battle took place between Russian fur traders and the native Tlingit community.  To further experience the Tlingit culture, attend a traditional dance at Shee’tka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Community House. 

Best Trail

The adventurous can summit 3,354 foot Mount Verstovia for unsurpassed views of the harbor and the mountainous heart of Baranof Island.  This steep route takes all day, starting with numerous switchbacks before the trail disappears and scrambling over rocks to the top.  Also scenic, Indian River Trail is a flatter alternative.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jagged peaks and tiny forested islands make Sitka the most beautiful spot in Southeast Alaska.  Bald eagles abound in trees around the town’s quiet boat docks, while the volcanic cone of Mount Edgecumbe sits zen-like off to the west. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There are no roads to Sitka, so you have to take an airplane, cruise ship, or ferry.  The main road on Baranof Island is paved and it is less than a mile walk to access the NPS visitor center from downtown.

Camping

Campsites are available at Blue Lake down a dirt road east of town in Tongass National Forest or at Old Sitka State Historic Park near the ferry terminal.

Explore More – When did the official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the U.S.A. take place on Castle Hill in Sitka (then known as New Archangel)?

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Overview

The Mandan and Hidatsa lived and farmed side-by-side near the banks of the Missouri River for centuries before Euro-Americans arrived in search of furs, bringing smallpox and other diseases.  The Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark over-wintered here in 1804-05.  Eventually the Mandan and Hidatsa were forced to abandon their villages, later joining the Arikara to form the Three Affiliated Tribes. 

Highlights

Reconstructed earthlodge, museum, riverside village sites

Must-Do Activity

Many artifacts recovered on site are displayed inside the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, some suggesting inhabitation by Paleo-Indians as far back as 11,000 years ago.  You can even try out a hoe made from a bison scapula.

Best Trail

From the visitor center a trail leads to the Milk River, a tributary to the much larger (and more flood prone) Missouri River.  Each lump on the grass that you pass was once an earthlodge, which is easier to see in the overhead photograph on the interpretive sign.  You can drive to two other trailheads that provide access to the Missouri River and the site of Big Hidatsa Village.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is not much evidence left of the hundreds of earthlodges that once stood in these three villages, but there is one reconstruction that visitors can enter to exemplify the spacious dwellings.  An earthlodge actually required a large amount of wood to provide structure.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Sakakawea State Park is 15 miles north of this site.

Explore More – What famous traveling companions did Lewis and Clark first meet here in 1804?

Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Overview

On the dry western side of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, south of bustling port city Kailua-Kona, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park is home to a reconstructed village that provides a glimpse into the daily life of the indigenous people hundreds of years ago.  The National Park Service (NPS) offers a visitor center, picnic area, and a festival held annually in July.

Highlights

Hale o Keawe temple, kōnane game table, fish ponds, Ki‘ilae village

Must-Do Activity

Adjacent to the popular snorkeling area dubbed “Two-Step,” this park sees its share of sea turtles.  Though these green sea turtles nest 800 miles to the northwest in the French Frigate Shoals, the well-known hula dance actually imitates the digging motions of a female turtle laying her eggs.  In the winter, watch for migrating humpback whales that spout and jump just offshore. 

Best Trail

Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau was a “place of refuge” for vanquished warriors, noncombatants, and kapu (taboo) breakers to be absolved by a kahuna pule (priest) so they could return home in peace.  It was separated from the Royal Grounds by a 10-foot wall built in AD1550, which can be seen along the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail that runs through the park to access Ki‘ilae village.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Carved wooden ki‘i are guardians of this place of refuge and stand next to this reconstruction of a temple and mausoleum that held the bones of 23 ali‘i (noble chiefs).  Ho‘okupu (offerings) were placed on the lele (tower) next to them.

Peak Season

The beach makes this spot popular year round

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

County and state parks on the leeward west coast of this island are great places to camp and relax under palm trees listening to the waves break.

Explore More – What was the most severe punishment for breaking a kapu, such as letting your shadow fall on Royal Grounds?

Pipestone National Monument

Overview

This site is famous as a place people have come for 2,000 years to mine the red quartzite rock (also known as catlinite).  The soft sedimentary stone is relatively easy to carve into smoking pipes and effigies.  Only American Indians are allowed to quarry here today with the proper permits.

Highlights

Pipestone quarries, museum, carving demonstrations, Winnewissa Falls

Must-Do Activity

April through October, you can watch American Indian carvers at the National Park Service museum demonstrate how to sculpt this soft yet durable stone into hollow pipes and other beautiful ornaments.  It is illegal to remove any rocks without a permit, but you can buy carvings in the gift shop.

Best Trail

A 0.75-mile trail leads past historic rock quarries to Winnewissa Falls, just the spot to be on a hot summer afternoon.  The remnants of tallgrass prairie protected within the park boundaries give an idea of what this entire region might have looked like before it was converted to farms.

Instagram-worthy Photo

28 miles southwest across the border in South Dakota’s Palisades State Park where the same red quartzite rock dramatically rises above muddy Split Rock Creek and is a great place to picnic or watch rock climbers.

Peak Season

Summer, but it is open year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a private campground near the monument entrance and Split Rock Creek State Park is 8 miles south.

Explore More – Who is the famous artist that catlinite is named after?