Tag Archives: camping

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

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Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Overview

Archaeological evidence suggests indigenous farmers lived around the Gila River dating back thousands of years, but the cliff dwellings were only briefly inhabited between AD 1270 and 1300.  After their initial discovery by Anglo-American settlers in 1878 heavy looting occurred, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907.  It is not an easy part of the country to access, but offers two incredibly scenic drives through the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.  Plan to spend at least a couple days in the area, maybe hiking or backpacking to some hot springs.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, scenic views, hot springs in area

Must-Do Activity

The Gila Visitor Center is jointly managed for the 533-acre National Monument and 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness (which in 1924 became the world’s first designated Wilderness).  From the National Park Service (NPS) contact station located just down the road, a one-mile loop trail climbs 180 feet to a well-preserved collection of cliff dwellings.  If you find that you enjoy climbing ladders up to cliff dwellings, then check out Bandelier National Monument and Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Trail

The trailhead also provides access to the Gila Wilderness, so watch for backpackers on the road and black bears along the West Fork Gila River.  Lightfeather Hot Springs is less than one mile from a different trailhead located closer to the Gila Visitor Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are about 40 rooms in the cliff dwelling ruins, which housed approximately ten families.  The south-facing cliff dwellings received the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but narrow and curvy, especially Highway 15 that heads north from Silver City, New Mexico.

Camping

Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds are located just outside the National Monument boundaries in Gila National Forest.  No permits are necessary to backpack in the Gila Wilderness.

Related Sites

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – The people who built the cliff dwellings were part of what culture, with pottery designs unique to the Tularosa phase (AD 1100 to 1300)?

Kenai Fjords National Park

Overview

Our favorite of the eight National Parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords.  It is a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Boat tours leave from the port of Seward and travel up beautiful Resurrection Bay, a long saltwater-filled valley (or fjord).  The town was named in 1903 for the Secretary of State who purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867 for less than two cents per acre, a move then known as “Seward’s Folly.”  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park accessible by road and is worth the side trip. 

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

Highlights

Exit Glacier, boat tours, tidewater glaciers, marine wildlife

Must-Do Activity

A tour boat is the easiest way to get up close to the variety of marine mammals and seabirds, but hardier souls can kayak the silty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.  Along the route to actively calving Aialik Glacier, you will see an abundance of wildlife: orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, cormorants, and so much more.  Some tour boats have a National Park Service ranger on board to narrate, answer questions, and help kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Tour boats get you close to the action to witness a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean.  These glaciers are one of 32 arms of the massive Harding Ice Field.

Best Trail

It is a short and worthwhile hike from the parking lot to the face of the rapidly receding Exit Glacier; black bears are common in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  You can continue hiking the steep 3.7-mile one-way trail up to 3,500 feet to view the expansive Harding Ice Field, but that requires at least four hours, serious endurance, and gear for the winter conditions that persist year round at that elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bundle up as it gets chilly when you pull up close to the actively calving Aialik Glacier.  You will be tempted to try capturing it all on your camera, but take some time to experience the action with your eyes, not through a viewfinder. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at Exit Glacier; boat tours cost about $200 per person

Road Conditions

The roads to Exit Glacier and Seward, Alaska are paved.

Camping

Two public-use cabins are available for rent in the summer and only accessible by water.  A free 12-site, walk-in tent campground is available at Exit Glacier, plus a winter-use cabin.  There are multiple RV parks in Seward, Alaska, a beautiful place to spend a few days fishing and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (recommended to do before your boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park).

Related Sites

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

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

Explore More – Who is Rockwell Kent and what is his connection with Resurrection Bay (hint: check out our Top 10 list of Alaska non-fiction books)?

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.

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

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

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

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

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

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.