Tag Archives: backpacking

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Overview

There are no roads in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, but vehicles can drive the beach nearly the entire 56-mile length of these Outer Banks barrier islands.  A passenger ferry leaves from Beaufort, North Carolina to access the Shackleford Banks where feral horses reside.  Cape Lookout is on the South Core Banks, a great spot for camping, surf fishing, kite flying, and beachcombing.  This island is accessible aboard a passenger ferry from Harkers Island and a vehicle ferry from Davis.

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Highlights

Historic lighthouse, undeveloped beaches, seashells, beach camping

Must-Do Activity

If you enjoy beach camping, then you must spend at least one night on the islands.  Go beachcombing in the morning after watching the sunrise light up Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Best Trail

There are boardwalks around the ferry landing and lighthouse, otherwise just walk the beaches.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The majestic 163-foot tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse (wearing argyle) is the icon of this national seashore and looks best at sunset and sunrise.

The lighthouse sticking out of the low fog
Find this photo and many others for sale on Imagekind.

Peak Season

Summer (if there is not a hurricane forecast)

Hours

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

Fees

Free to visit and camp, $16 roundtrip per adult for passenger ferry, sometimes a charge to climb to the top of the lighthouse

Road Conditions

Paved to the ferry docks in Beaufort and Harkers Island, sandy on outer islands (4×4 required)

Camping

Camping is free on the beaches, but unless you have your own boat you will need to pay for a ferry ride out there.  The oceanfront section of beach near Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to vehicles, making it perfect for backpackers.

Our campsite

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Pelican at sunrise

Tiff with her collection of shells she found
Seashell hunting out here is great; and yes, the National Park Service allows you to take a reasonable amount home.

Short billed dowitchers

Lighthouse reflection

Explore More – When was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse built?

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Bandelier National Monument

Overview

One of 13 national monuments in New Mexico, this archaeological site is located in a beautiful forested canyon at 6,000 feet elevation outside Los Alamos.  Ancestral Puebloans inhabited Frijoles Canyon from AD 1150 to 1550, building villages and carving rooms out of the soft volcanic tuff, much like in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Bandelier

Highlights

Ruins, cavates, Alcove House, Upper Falls, Painted Cave

Must-Do Activity

Climb 140 feet up ladders and steep steps to Alcove House cliff dwelling for superlative views of the canyon.

Best Trail

After exploring the ruins, be sure to hike 1.5 miles to Upper Falls downstream from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The National Park Service has installed some awesome, authentic-looking ladders to access the cavates.

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Peak Season

Summer when a shuttle is required from Los Alamos, New Mexico due to limited parking

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per group or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Paved, but visitors are required to take a shuttle from Los Alamos between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the summer (May 17 – October 17)

Camping

Juniper Campground has 94 sites, running water, and is open most of the year.  Its 70 miles of trails also make the park popular for backpacking, which requires a zoned camping permit.

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Scott at the entryway for a large dwelling
Scott inside a cavate
Tiff a few rooms down
Tiff inside a cavate

Tiff climbing down

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The tuff looks like Swiss cheese; maybe that’s what attracted Swiss anthropologist Adolph Bandelier.
Waterfall
Upper Falls is only a 1.5 mile hike downstream from the visitor center

Explore More – When did the giant volcano erupt that created the 16-mile wide Valles Caldera and deposited hundreds of feet of volcanic ash that formed tuff?

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Grand Portage National Monument

Overview

Beaver fur top hats were a must-have fashion accessory for every wealthy man in Europe and America in the late 1700s.  To access the trapping grounds to the west, it was necessary for the French-Canadian voyageurs to walk their canoes along an 8 mile portage to bypass the rapids on the Pigeon River.  In 1784, the end of the trail on the edge of Lake Superior became the site of the North West Company headquarters where they held an annual Rendezvous—a giant party and opportunity for trade.

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Highlights

Reconstructed fort, Ojibwa village, living history demonstrations, Rendezvous Days every August

Must-Do Activity

Walk around the reconstructed buildings and talk with the costumed reenactors that demonstrate canoe building, bread baking, weapons firing, and other activities during the summer.

Best Trail

Day hikers and backpackers can follow the historic Grand Portage Trail 8.5 miles one-way along the Pigeon River to the former site of Fort Charlotte.  The 300 foot climb to the top of Mt. Rose is also popular for views of Lake Superior.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The reconstructed North West Company headquarters buildings have wonderfully warped glass panes which are fun to take photographs through.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads to the monument are paved, but Partridge Falls Road offers four-wheel drive opportunities.

Camping

The only camping inside the park are two backpacking sites at Fort Charlotte available with a free permit.  Most people waiting to catch the morning ferry to Isle Royale National Park camp at Grand Portage Casino right on Lake Superior or 20 miles south at Judge Magney State Park.

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Explore More – After hat fashion changed to silk instead of beaver, when was the portage abandoned?

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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 417 units, despite there being many other affiliated trails (some with their own Visitor Centers).  The trail stretches 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, crossing 14 states, 6 NPS sites, 8 National Forests, and countless other parks.

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Highlights

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.

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 (or 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 Katahdin summit!

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?

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