Tag Archives: canoeing

Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest

North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

308,234 acres (159,885 federal/ 148,349 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfsnc

Overview

The sandy soil of North Carolina’s coastal plain is where you will find Croatan National Forest, the land of the longleaf pine (which is the official state tree).  Longleaf pines are adapted to frequent surface fires by going through a “grass stage” when young, so the Forest Service conducts controlled burns in some stands.  Much of the National Forest has standing water (in pocosins and Carolina bays), which is why there is not a single trail through its 31,000 acres of designated Wilderness areas.  Pocosins are raised bogs and home to 11 species of carnivorous plants, including the federally-protected Venus flytrap.  A Carolina bay is one of many oval-shaped depressions typically filled with water that are oriented in a northwest-southeast direction across the coastal plain.  They range in size from small ponds to two miles in diameter, but the exact cause of their formation is unknown.

Highlights

Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail, Flanner Beach, Fishers Landing, Brice Creek canoe trail, Black Swamp OHV Trail, Island Creek Trail, Patsy Pond Nature Trail, Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail, Neusiok Trail

Must-Do Activity

To find some of the 11 species of carnivorous plants in Croatan National Forest, you will have to work a little bit.  Pull off one of the highways that bisect the area and hike to the edge of a pocosin, where scrubby vegetation grows in highly-acidic black soil.  Pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and Venus flytraps utilize different methods to capture insects and spiders in order to sap their nitrogen and other nutrients that are scarce in the water-logged soil.  To trigger a tiny Venus flytrap to close, an insect must touch one hair twice or multiple hairs within 20 seconds.  They are often found adjacent to larger pitcher plants, which lure insects inside by color or odor, then are too slick-walled to escape.  Sundews and the butterwort utilize a sticky substance to capture their prey.  The five species of bladderworts float in shallow water where they capture swimming prey that trigger a trap door.

Best Trail

The Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail is a 1.4-mile loop located partially on a boardwalk near the mouth of the White Oak River.  There are also two long trails through the swamps and pine forests: Neusiok Trail (21 miles) and Weetock Trail (14 miles).  There are no designated trails through Croatan National Forest’s 31,000 acres of designated Wilderness areas. 

Watchable Wildlife

Black bears in this region can get very big since they generally do not hibernate in the winter.  Other large mammals found are bobcats, raccoons, river otters, and muskrats.  Great blue herons, snowy egrets, ospreys, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wild turkeys, woodcocks, and northern bobwhite quail are major bird species.  There are a variety of reptiles and amphibians, including alligators, anoles, cottonmouths, copperheads, canebrake rattlesnakes, pigmy rattlesnakes, and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.  The tannic-stained blackwater supports fish like warmouth, redfin pickerel, sunfish, bowfin, yellow bullhead catfish, and the rare swampfish (a species of cavefish). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Carnivorous pitcher plants have large showy flowers that bloom in early May.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The major highways (17, 58, 70) that cross the National Forest are paved, and the sandy, unpaved roads are generally in good shape except when flooded.

Camping

There are Forest Service campgrounds at Flanner Beach on the Neuse River and Cedar Point along the White Oak River.

Wilderness Areas

Catfish Lake South Wilderness

Pocosin Wilderness

Pond Pine Wilderness

Sheep Ridge Wilderness

Related Sites

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Nearest National Park

Congaree

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, longleaf pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, pond pine, eastern redcedar, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

black gum, umbrella magnolia, southern magnolia, northern red oak, southern red oak, white oak, water oak, chestnut oak, overcup oak, black cherry, sassafras, American holly, yaupon holly, Hercules’ club, sweetgum, red maple, sugar maple, white alder, witch hazel, American beech, black walnut, tulip-poplar, hophornbeam, musclewood, red mulberry, flowering dogwood, loblolly bay, red bay, sweet bay magnolia, titi

Explore More – What is the origin of the National Forest’s name and how does it relate to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site?

Learn more about this and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Overview

Since 1972, about 255 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers have been protected along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  It is a popular route for paddlers and tube floaters, in addition to providing invaluable habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, great blue herons, and 40 species of native mussels.  There are a few dams along the rivers and regulations vary by who manages different sections, so it is important to know the rules before you launch your boat.

Highlights

Trego Nature Trail, Sandrock Cliffs, Interstate State Parks

Must-Do Activity

There is a long scenic byway that follows the St. Croix River north from its confluence with the Mississippi River (south of Minneapolis) near the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the seasonal Namekagon River Visitor Center on a stretch of water that is good for floating.  If you do not have a boat, just down the road try the 2.8-mile roundtrip Trego Nature Trail that follows the Namekagon River through a forest of white pine, bigtooth aspen, and paper birch trees.

Best Trail

Wisconsin Interstate State Park is located on the St. Croix River and is the western terminus for the partially completed 1,200-mile long Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin Interstate State Parks are great places to learn about potholes (up to 15-foot deep bowls carved into solid rock) formed by boulders caught in whirlpools during glacial melting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved, but some (like the side road to Trego Nature Trail) are good gravel.

Camping

Developed campgrounds can be found in the numerous state parks and state forests along the rivers.  Only designated riverside campsites can be used by those paddling (except in the Stillwater Islands area), but no reservations are accepted.

Related Sites

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Explore More – A major proponent of creating this park, Senator Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin and helped pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as founding what annual holiday in 1970?

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)

Explore More – Named for a town in Nebraska, the Valentine Formation holds what types of fossils?

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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