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Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center at Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?

Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

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

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – When was the Cyclorama painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed?

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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?