Tag Archives: canoeing

Niobrara National Scenic River

Overview

When most folks think of Nebraska they imagine endless dusty prairie scenes of the Oregon Trail, yet between the wide Platte and Missouri Rivers also runs the 535-mile long Niobrara River.  The Niobrara cuts across the 100th Meridian of Longitude that roughly divides in half the continental U.S.  This special area is home to species representative of the eastern forests, Rocky Mountains, boreal forests, and prairies; consequently it has high biodiversity.  The motto on the National Park Service (NPS) signs is “Public Waters, Private Land.”

Highlights

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Falls Trail, Smith Falls State Park, canoeing, tubing

Must-Do Activity

The 76-mile section of river designated the Niobrara National Scenic River in 1991 begins within Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where the first 4.8 miles are closed to the public.  The 22-mile section starting from Cornell Bridge is the most popular portion for canoers, tubers, and people who float downstream in round metal cattle troughs.  The Niobrara River has a few big Class IV rapids, but nothing more than Class II through the first 27 miles.  We floated to the portage at dangerous Rocky Ford Rapid at high water in May and encountered only Class I rapids and a few strainers along the shorelines.

Best Trail

Pull off the river around Mile 15 in Smith Falls State Park to take the short boardwalk to a 63-foot tall waterfall.  The waterfalls along these cliffs are interesting because instead of pouring off a cut bank they develop a prominent ledge that grows as the limestone is dissolved and redeposited (like a cave formation).  You can also drive to the state park and walk over the Niobrara River on the Verdigre Bridge, originally built in 1910 and relocated here in 1996.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not miss the opportunity to drive the dirt road through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to see the bison herd, especially in May when the bison calves are born.  The refuge also contains the short Fort Falls Trail, which forms a loop with views of a 45-foot tall waterfall.

Peak Season

Summer, though water levels drop after June.

Hours

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

Fees

None for the river, but there is a $1 per person launch fee in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and entry/camping fees at Smith Falls State Park.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles.

Camping

Camping options are limited since most of the river banks are privately owned, though Smith Falls State Park offers a campground ($6/person/night) and other private campsites are marked on river maps.

Related Sites

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

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Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

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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Everglades National Park

Overview

Everglades National Park covers most of the southwestern corner of Florida.  The ’Glades are very flat, with elevation topping out at 8 feet above sea level.  This region is important to many unique species of wildlife, imperiled by sea level rise and the introduction of exotic species.  Incredibly close to the city of Miami, the Shark Valley tram tour offers a great opportunity to see alligators.  Near the campground at Flamingo, Eco Pond and Mrazek Pond are both good spots to watch for wading birds like ibis, egret, heron, wood stork, and roseate spoonbill.

Highlights

Eco Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley tram tour, Wilderness Waterway

Must-Do Activity

There are few roads in Everglades National Park, so the best way to experience this “river of grass” is from the water.  There are guided tours out of Flamingo and Thousand Islands, or you can get a permit to explore the untamed Wilderness Waterway and the keys of Florida Bay.  We had a blast navigating the mangrove channels to our chickee (elevated camping platform) and did not see another person for two days. “Hell to get into; hell to get out of” is how old-timers described the mazelike route to Hell’s Bay.  Good navigation skills are required and you should come prepared for mosquitoes every month of the year.

Best Trail

On the Anhinga Trail, its namesake birds stretch their wings to dry in pond apple trees while alligators swim right under your feet beneath the boardwalk. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wildlife abounds so you will want to remember to bring your binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera.  You can get good photos of alligators while remaining safe and dry on the Anhinga Trail boardwalk.  We also got very close to a barred owl and several black vultures on the same trail in April 2014.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The major entry roads are paved to access Flamingo, Thousand Islands, and Shark Valley.

Camping

Camping in the park, at Long Pine Key or Flamingo, provides quick access to trails that come alive with wildlife during the crepuscular hours (sunrise and sunset). 

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

Explore More – Who was the woman instrumental in the creation of Everglades National Park when she published The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947?

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.