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Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Wyoming, Utah

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Ashley National Forest

207,363 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/ashley/specialplaces

Overview

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area surrounds the Flaming Gorge Reservoir that straddles the Wyoming-Utah border in the northern portion of Ashley National Forest.  The partially-submerged canyon was named by John Wesley Powell who in 1869 started his expedition down the Colorado River near the headwaters of the Green River.  The reservoir has 360 miles of shoreline, five full-service marinas, and numerous boat launches and campgrounds.

Highlights

Sheep Creek National Geological Area, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Cart Creek Bridge, Flaming Gorge Dam, Red Canyon Recreation Complex, Green River, Firehole Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The top activities in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area are boating and fishing, as the reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  Ice fishing is available in the winter, as are trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.  Southwest of the reservoir, Sheep Creek National Geological Area offers a scenic drive through nine rock formations with interpretive signs.  Downstream from the dam, the Green River is a rafting destination.

Best Trail

Little Hole National Recreation Trail runs 7.2 miles along the Green River from the Flaming Gorge Spillway to the Little Hole boat ramp.  Canyon Rim Trail starts at the Red Canyon Overlook and follows the canyon rim for 1.5 miles before cutting three miles towards the Greendale Overlook.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Flaming Gorge Dam stands 502 feet high and is crossed by Highway 191 on the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, as is beautiful Cart Creek Bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week, or America the Beautiful pass), but there is no fee to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or across the dam.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile long Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads including popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Access roads to boat ramps at Lucerne Valley, Antelope Flat, Cedar Springs, Mustang Ridge, Buckboard Crossing, and Firehole Canyon are paved.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.

Related Sites

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Explore More – When was the Flaming Gorge Dam completed?

Allegheny National Forest

Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region

742,693 acres (513,175 federal/ 229,518 other)

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

Overview

The only National Forest in Pennsylvania was created in 1923 utilizing the federal government’s ability to purchase land under the Weeks Act of 1911.  However, they could not afford the subsurface or mineral rights, which has created issues in this oil-producing area.  Before it became Allegheny National Forest, most of the hillsides were clearcut to feed the area’s wood chemical plants, allowing black cherry and early successional species to dominate the second growth forests.  The National Forest contains two Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Clarion River (51.7 miles) and Allegheny River (87 miles in three separate sections).

Highlights

Allegheny National Recreation Area, Hearts Content Scenic Area, Willow Bay Recreation Area, Old Powerhouse, Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail, Minister Creek, Buzzard Swamp Hiking Area, Clarion Wild and Scenic River, Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, Buckaloons Recreation Area, Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start exploring Allegheny National Forest is by driving the Longhouse Scenic Byway, a 36-mile loop, which includes views of the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam, plus a side trip up to Jakes Rocks Overlook.  We drove in from the east and found the easy walks on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail to be a good introduction to this region.  This is one of the few places in Pennsylvania with old-growth forests, so be sure to stop at Hearts Content Scenic Area or Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Areas. 

Best Trail

Huge eastern hemlock and eastern white pine trees up to 400 years old can be found in the 20-acre Hearts Content Scenic Area.  This National Natural Landmark has a picnic area constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is located across from a nice campground.  There are two short, flat loop trails located here, but you can also connect into 7.8 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes.  Other popular hiking destinations include Rimrock Trail and a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail within the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System (see our post on Allegheny National Recreation Area for more information).

Watchable Wildlife

As hard as it is to believe given their prevalence now, low populations of white-tailed deer in the 1920s allowed this new National Forest to grow back quickly.  Campers should exercise caution with their food and trash since black bears are in the area.  Turkeys, bald eagles, barred owls, Canada geese, black-capped chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers are common bird species.  Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area is known for its summer population of 1,000 roosting bats.  There is also evidence of beavers on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail.  Allegheny Reservoir has walleye, trout, bass, catfish, northern pike, and muskellunge, and small native brook trout can be found in the Farnsworth Stream and other creeks. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kinzua Dam was completed in 1965 and stands 179 feet tall and 1,897 feet in length.  Kinzua is a Seneca Indian word that translates as “place of many big fishes.”  Watch for fish that gather in eddies at the edges of the Allegheny Reservoir near the dam, but remember that fishing and feeding the fish is prohibited at this spot.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is an entrance fee at both Willow Bay and Buckaloons Recreation Areas, but it is half price with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

All roads are paved to Willow Bay Recreation Area and Hearts Content Scenic Area, which are popular with RV campers. 

Camping

Allegheny National Forest contains 15 campgrounds with more than 1,000 sites, and Willow Bay Recreation Area also has cabins for rent.  We enjoyed our stay at Heart’s Content Campground, but found Buckaloons Campground to be too crowded.  Allegheny Islands Wilderness has seven islands that can be used for boat-in dispersed camping.

Wilderness Areas

Allegheny Islands Wilderness

Hickory Creek Wilderness

Related Sites

Allegheny National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania)

Grey Towers National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, black maple, red maple, striped maple, silver maple, mountain maple, yellow birch, sweet birch, black walnut, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, sycamore, American beech, white ash, tulip-poplar, green ash, cucumber magnolia, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry, pin cherry, choke cherry, northern red oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm

Explore More – Timberdoodle is a local nickname for which native bird species that nests in this forest?

Ross Lake National Recreation Area

Overview

Bisecting the two sections of North Cascades National Park in northern Washington is Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  The incredibly scenic Highway 20 (closed seasonally) cuts through the mountains here, less than two hours from Seattle.  The rainshadow effect is readily apparent to anyone who crosses these mountains from the lush west to the arid eastern portion of the state.  Access to the only boat ramp on Ross Lake actually requires a drive through Canada, but you can also pick up a water taxi near Diablo Dam.

Highlights

Diablo Lake Overlook, Gorge Creek Falls, Ross Lake Resort, Sourdough Mountain Trail

Must-Do Activity

If coming from Seattle, start your visit at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center on the scenic North Cascades Highway (20).  Ross Lake National Recreation Area contains three hydroelectric reservoirs, which have an interesting turquoise color due to glacial silt, especially evident at Diablo Lake Overlook.  Nearby, Colonial Creek Campground offers a peaceful forest in which to spend the night and a good jumping off place for a day hike on Thunder Creek or Fourth of July Trails through old-growth forests with colossal mushroom conchs and giant banana slugs.

Best Trail

Summiting Desolation Peak is often found on the bucket lists of the writer Jack Kerouac’s biggest fans, as he did some of his best writing while stationed as a fire lookout here in 1956.  The observation tower is not far from the Canadian border and the trek is a daunting task, typically utilizing a water taxi to cross Ross Lake.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not drive past Diablo Lake Overlook, an awe inspiring and usually gusty stop along Highway 20.  The craggy heights of the geologically young mountains surrounding this spectacular reservoir are magnificent to behold, yet forbidding to enter.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The North Cascades Highway (20) is typically closed east of Ross Dam from mid-November through mid-April (or later).  The unpaved road to Thornton Lakes Trailhead is not suitable for trailers.

Camping

Colonial Creek Campground (164 sites) is only one option, additionally there are Newhalem Creek (119 sites), Goodell Creek (22 sites), and Hozomeen (122 sites accessed via a 40-mile gravel road from Hope, British Columbia).  For the full backcountry experience, pick up a free backpacking permit at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, Washington.

Related Sites

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – Only two miles across at its widest point, how long is Ross Lake?

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Overview

The 2,320-mile long Mississippi River is legendary in our nation and well-known worldwide.  Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (NRRA) covers 72 miles of the famous river’s course through Minnesota, from busy metropolitan sections in the Twin Cities to secluded stretches of water.  Along this section it changes from its shallow headwaters to a powerful force at its confluence with the St. Croix River.  Established in 1988, the National Park Service (NPS) owns only 35 acres of the 54,000 acres protected within the NRRA.

Highlights

St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Falls, Coldwater Spring, Indian Mounds Park, Mississippi Gorge Regional Park

Must-Do Activity

Near downtown Minneapolis is St. Anthony Falls, the only true waterfall on the Mississippi River’s entire length.  The falls powered gristmills and sawmills on both banks that drove the settlement of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Opportunities for walking, biking, boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and wildlife watching (especially at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge) abound along the river depending upon the season.

Best Trail

In winter, urban trails along the Mississippi River are very pretty under a layer of white snow, and it can be very quiet and peaceful.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We enjoyed Minnehaha Regional Park where we found the 53-foot tall waterfall celebrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is no free parking available at the NPS visitor center located inside the lobby for the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Camping

There are no campgrounds managed by the National Park Service within the NRRA, however, there are many places to camp in the area.

Related Sites

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (Minnesota-Wisconsin)

Missouri National Recreational River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota)

Explore More – What did the city of Minneapolis do to make sure Minnehaha Falls was flowing for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit during the 1964 drought?

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is an underappreciated gem in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  It has gorgeous scenery, a winding reservoir, and abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep and wild horses.  The 525-foot tall Yellowtail Dam was completed in 1968, creating a 71-mile long reservoir, the majority of which is in narrow Bighorn Canyon where cliffs soar up to 2,000 feet above the water.

Highlights

Devil Canyon Overlook, Hillsboro Dude Ranch, Horseshoe Bend, Yellowtail Dam

Must-Do Activity

No road connects the north and south portion of the park, making for a long drive between the NPS visitor center in Lovell, Wyoming and the one at the Yellowtail Dam in Montana.  Thus, it is best to choose either one side or the other and explore the canyon by boat.  Devil Canyon Overlook and most of the 27 miles of hiking trails are in the southern section.  This is also where the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range enters into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  In the summer there are lifeguards at the designated swimming areas at Horseshoe Bend and Ok-A-Beh.

Best Trail

The southern portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has trails to historic sites like Hillsboro Dude Ranch and several tipi rings found along Bad Pass Trail, a route which has seen over 10,000 years of human use.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to get out on the water, the highlight of the park is Devil Canyon Overlook where the cliffs drop over 1,000 feet straight down to the lake.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Almost every road is paved, but they are narrow and winding so may not be advisable for very long RVs.

Camping

There are drive-in campgrounds (fee) in both states, as well as free boat-in campgrounds on the Montana side.  Backcountry camping is allowed below the highwater mark of Bighorn Lake.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Explore More – The Yellowtail Dam is named after whom?