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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.

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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 Honaunau 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

Open 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?

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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