Tag Archives: beach

Virgin Islands National Park

Overview

More than half the island of St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park, a Caribbean paradise known for its white sand beaches and crystal waters.  The National Park also includes 95% of Hassel Island, which was once a peninsula connected to St. Thomas.  The region is still recovering after Hurricanes Irma and Maria did extensive damage in 2017, but did not seem to affect the sugar mill ruins that have been standing since the 1720s.

Highlights

Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, Annaberg Sugar Mill, Petroglyph Trail, Saltpond Bay

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling is the number one reason to visit St. John, which is surrounded by coral reefs.  The Underwater Trail in popular Trunk Bay is a good place to start, but our favorite spot to snorkel was from the beautiful beach at Saltpond Bay where we saw sea turtles, reef squids, and countless other species.  From the beach a trail leads 1.8 miles roundtrip to the 200-foot high cliffs at Ram Head.

Best Trail

Reef Bay Trail starts near the island’s high point at 900 feet in elevation, then descends 1.5 miles to the split for Petroglyph Trail where the rocks around a seasonal waterfall have several Taino carvings.  Reef Bay Trail continues another mile to the ruins of a sugar mill where ranger-led hikes (fee) are met by a boat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A small, paved pulloff at the top of a hill on North Shore Road looks east towards the white sand beaches of Trunk Bay, an image used in almost every promotional publication for St. John. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None, except when lifeguards are on duty at Trunk Bay.

Road Conditions

Two narrow, winding, paved routes (North Shore and Centerline Roads) leave from Cruz Bay where the ferries arrive.  Several dirt roads require four-wheel-drive, including Catherineberg Road.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

None on the island of St. John until the NPS reopens Cinnamon Bay Campground, which closed following the 2017 hurricanes.

We created this design to celebrate Virgin Islands National Park and it is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How long did the violent slave revolt in 1733 last before French troops arrived on St. John to return slaves to the sugarcane plantations?

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.

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Cabrillo National Monument

Overview

Cabrillo National Monument is named for a Spanish explorer that sailed the California coastline in 1542 before mysteriously dying in the Channel Islands.  Located on Point Loma peninsula west of San Diego Bay, the steep cliffs offer great overlooks of Coronado Island and the city beyond. 

Highlights

Cabrillo statue, 1854 Old Point Loma Lighthouse, tidepools

Must-Do Activity

To find out more about the history of Spanish exploration in this region, check out the museum and talk to one of the costumed actors (it is southern California after all).  The national monument is a great place to imagine life at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse or learn the military past of the strategic defense post Fort Rosecrans. 

Best Trail

Follow the road downhill to the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula to a great spot to explore tidepools.  Watch for migrating gray whales in the winter and the many unique bird species that migrate up and down the coast.  There is also the 2.5-mile roundtrip Bayside Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Old Point Loma Lighthouse was built in 1854, but due to that famous California coastal fog it was retired from service in 1891.  Climb its circular stairs for a unique photo that looks like the inside of a seashell.

Peak Season

Year round, but less likely to be foggy in the winter.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Mission Trails Regional Park off Highway 52 and other private campgrounds are located nearby.

Explore More – You would expect that Spain purchased the statue of Cabrillo, but which country actually did?

De Soto National Memorial

Overview

Why create a memorial to a genocidal Conquistador when he was not the first Spaniard to land in Florida?  Good question.  Juan Pónce de León and Pánfilo de Narváez had both already met their demise in this region, but that did not deter Hernando de Soto from trying again in 1539.  He did not die until three years later, after he led his soldiers all the way to the Mississippi River leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Highlights

Camp Ucita, film, Memorial Trail, Holy Eucharist Monument

Must-Do Activity

De Soto made landfall in Florida somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Bradenton, Florida where the Manatee River reaches Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.  He left behind 100 men there in Camp Ucita, a replica of which was built on the site of the 27-acre De Soto National Memorial.  In the winter (a.k.a. touristy) months, costumed interpreters work at the replica Camp Ucita.

Best Trail

Hike the half-mile Memorial Trail through the mangroves to the Holy Eucharist Monument.  Then cool off in the air-conditioned visitor center to watch a 22-minute film on the Spanish expedition. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you visit around Halloween, a scary skeleton Conquistador atop a skeleton horse will greet you at the entrance to the National Park Service visitor center.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

A paved road leads through a residential neighborhood to the visitor center, so watch out for dog walkers and joggers on the road and trail.

Camping

Myakka River State Park is southeast of Bradenton (where private campgrounds are also available).

Explore More – The Spaniards brought many diseases to the indigenous peoples, but the introduction of which domesticated animal had the longest lasting ecological impact?

Fort Monroe National Monument

Overview

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Yorktown, Virginia, there is a brick fort so large it puts all others to shame.  It was held throughout the Civil War by the Union Army, hosting President Lincoln multiple times and providing a refuge for escaped slaves.  Following the War Between the States it served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (his cell is contained within the Casemate Museum).  The fort was not decommissioned by the military until 2011 when it was declared Fort Monroe National Monument, though it still contains private residences.

Tiff with the moat that you could drive over!

Highlights

Casemate Museum, Building #50, moat you can drive over

Must-Do Activity

After you visit the Casemate Museum, walk around the ramparts and the parade ground with its countless live oak trees, including the 500-year-old Algernourne Oak.  Nearby Outlook Beach is popular for swimming, as is North Beach which is also part of the National Monument.

Best Trail

There is a self-guided walking tour that passes Building #50 (the house President Lincoln stayed in) and the Algernourne Oak.  Watch for traffic when you cross the moat through the East Gate.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The author Edgar Allen Poe served here in 1828, so you can pose with him and his raven inside the Casemate Museum.

Monroe

Peak Season

Open year round, though the summertime brings more tourists to the Yorktown Peninsula.

Hours

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

Fees

None to walk the grounds and even the Casemate Museum is now free ($3 for guided tours).

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but be aware that most moat-crossing bridges are only one lane wide.

Camping

None in the monument which is filled with private homes, but there are several private campgrounds in the area.

IMG_2392 IMGP5711
Drive across the moat to enter the fort.

IMG_2393
Flagstaff Bastion Overlook offers great views of Fort Monroe and the coastline.

IMG_2392 IMGP5714
Inside the Casemate Museum.

IMG_2392

Scott with a house that Lincoln stayed at when he was visiting the fort
Building #50 housed Abraham Lincoln during his stays at Fort Monroe during the Civil War.

Tiff with the historic fort church
Live oak trees line the extensive Parade Ground inside Fort Monroe National Monument.

Explore More – The fort was completed in 1834 under the supervision of which famous Civil War General (then a Lieutenant)?