Tag Archives: backpacking

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

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Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Overview

On the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, the Delaware River flows through a gap in the long ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  This marks the southern end of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the site of the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center (right off Interstate 80) managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  When preservationists fought to protect this area from being dammed in the 1960s it led to the creation of the National Recreation Area surrounding a 40-mile stretch of river designated as the Middle Delaware National Scenic River.

Highlights

Raymondskill Falls, Millbrook Village, Dingmans Falls, floating Middle Delaware National Scenic River

Must-Do Activity

Most of the NPS visitor centers are open seasonally in this resort area on the Pocono Plateau.  We visited in the offseason in late September and enjoyed hiking to Raymondskill, Silver Thread, and Dingmans Falls on the Pennsylvania side.  On the New Jersey side the main attraction is Millbrook Village, a recreated 1800s town that is open year round.  Fishing, swimming, and floating the Middle Delaware National Scenic River are popular in the summer.

Best Trail

There are more than 100 miles of trails within the park, including 27 miles of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail that leads to the top of Mt. Minsi for great views of the actual Delaware Water Gap.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A boardwalk trail passes 80-foot tall Silver Thread Falls on the way to 130-foot tall Dingmans Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but some sites have a user fee (Smithfield Beach, Milford Beach, etc.) and there are toll bridges across the river in places.

Road Conditions

There are several unpaved roads and toll bridges within the boundaries of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Camping

Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania

Campground options available in New Jersey include Worthington State Forest, High Point State Park, and Stokes State Forest.  Dingmans Campground on the Pennsylvania side offers discounts for the NPS Senior Pass. Primitive camping is allowed for thru-hikers on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and along the riverside for boaters.  Keep a clean campsite, as black bears are common.

Related Sites

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (New York-Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – The Delaware River is one of the cleanest rivers in the eastern U.S. and attracts large numbers of which nationally symbolic raptor every winter?

Wind Cave National Park

Overview

The seventh-longest mapped cave in the world, Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by Black Hills settlers who noticed a whistling sound coming from its narrow natural entrance.  It was named a national park in 1903 and is famous for its boxwork calcite formations.  The National Park has a herd of approximately 400 bison, in addition to pronghorns, prairie dogs, turkeys, coyotes, white-tailed deer, and elk.

Learn more in our guidebook A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Museum, cave tours, Rankin Ridge lookout tower, Highland Creek Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The interior of Wind Cave is a constant 53°F, so bring a jacket if you sign up for one of several tours.  For first-timers we recommend the Natural Entrance Tour, which involves entering a vapor lock revolving door and stair steps, not squeezing through the actual tiny natural entrance.  On the Candlelight Tour you carry lightweight metal candle-lanterns, just like 19th-century tourists.  It is only offered in the summer and explores an unlit section of the cave, but no cameras are allowed due to the open flames. 

Best Trail

There are several good trails that traverse the prairie and canyons that can be connected in a variety of loops.  We enjoy backpacking (free permit required) on Highland Creek Trail, where we always see bison.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We have always loved the view of this bridge on Highway 87 over Beaver Creek.  There is also a wooden trestle “Pigtail Bridge” further down the road.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but $12 per person for each cave tour ($30 for Wild Cave)

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but bison are most commonly spotted along Road 5, a graded dirt road through the scenic eastern section of the park bordering Custer State Park (admission fee).

Camping

The NPS runs Elk Mountain Campground or you can backpack camp with a free permit from the visitor center.  The surrounding Black Hills National Forest offers campgrounds and dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

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

Explore More – Wind Cave contains what percentage of the boxwork calcite formations discovered in the entire world?

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.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Overview

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was supposed to connect ports in Washington, D.C. with the Ohio River, but it never reached its destination before the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad rendered it obsolete in 1850.  It employed 35,000 laborers (mostly European immigrants) during its 22 years of construction and eventually carried coal out of the Appalachian Mountains for decades.  The canal closed in 1924, but it left behind indelible historic landmarks like locks, dams, aqueducts, historic hotels, and a 3,118-foot long tunnel.

Highlights

Historic locks, boat tours, Great Falls Tavern, boating

Must-Do Activity

C&O Canal National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and offers multiple free visitor centers along the route that are open seasonally.  Near Washington, D.C. both the Great Falls Tavern and Georgetown Visitor Centers offer mule-drawn canal boat rides on a first-come, first-served basis April through October.  We enjoyed touring the historic locks of the canal in Hancock, Maryland after visiting Catoctin Mountain Park and Antietam National Battlefield.

Best Trail

Today you can walk and bike the graded 184.5-mile towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way if you choose.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The canal locks at Hancock, Maryland became part of the park that was created in 1971.  The boarding house located there now serves as an NPS visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, as most of the visitor centers are closed seasonally

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at Great Falls Tavern

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are primitive drive-in camping areas at five spots along the canal path, as well as 30 backpacking campsites spaced approximately five miles apart.  There is also a nice NPS campground at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia-Maryland)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – At its peak of operation, how many mule-drawn boats were in service on the C&O Canal?

Saguaro National Park

Overview

The only U.S. National Park within the expansive Sonoran Desert is divided into two separate districts east and west of Tucson, Arizona.  Its namesake cactus can reach 50 feet in height and weigh more than 16,000 pounds when swelled with water during the rainy season.  Saguaros do not typically branch their first arms until age seventy-five and they can live over 200 years.  They share their home with other cacti that have cuddly names like teddybear cholla, hedgehog, barrel, staghorn cholla, and prickly pear.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Cactus Forest Drive, Desert Ecology Trail, Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers in both the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.  In each district, opportunities for visitors include scenic drives, handicap-accessible nature trails, and more strenuous hiking options.  Much of the wildlife is nocturnal in the hot desert, but watch for unique species like javelinas, ringtails, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, phainopeplas, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Best Trail

Hikers can find great overlooks of the surrounding mountains along the short Ridge View Trail in the eastern Rincon Mountain District of the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Winter is a great time to come to Saguaro National Park due to mild temperatures, but to see the desert in bloom the spring is best.  Saguaros typically bloom in early June, though their large white blooms are hard to photograph at the top of the tall cacti where moths, bats, and other pollinators can find them.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

In the Rincon Mountain District the Cactus Forest Drive is all paved, but in the Tucson Mountain District the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is mostly a graded gravel road.

Camping

Only backcountry camping in designated sites (with a permit) is allowed in the National Park, but campgrounds are available at Tucson Mountain County Park just outside the western district and throughout Coronado National Forest which borders the eastern district.

Related Sites

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

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

Explore More – Tohono O’odham Indians utilized saguaro fruit for jam, syrup, and wine; at what age do the cacti start flowering?

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.