Tag Archives: driving tour

Natural Bridges National Monument

Overview

South of Canyonlands National Park is isolated Natural Bridges National Monument.  First established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was not accessible by road until uranium mining developed this part of Utah in the 1950s.  As you may recall from our post on Arches National Park, bridges are created by flowing water, unlike arches that are primarily carved by wind.

Highlights

3 huge natural bridges, scenic views, ruins, hiking, stargazing

Must-Do Activity

The monument is home to 220-foot tall Sipapu Bridge, which is second only to Glen Canyon’s Rainbow Bridge as the largest in the world.  Kachina Bridge, at 210 feet and growing, may catch up to it someday.  Perhaps the most visually striking of the three standing bridges is the 180-foot span of Owachomo Bridge that is only nine feet thick at its center.  Handicap accessible overlooks are available along Bridge View Drive.

Best Trail

A nine-mile loop hike connects all three natural bridges, which are also accessible by shorter trails from the rim drive.  Do not attempt this rugged trek if you are not prepared; it is a rocky canyon bottom at high elevation with little shade.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Owachomo Bridge is the oldest of the three standing natural bridges in the National Monument.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The secluded nature of this region and its elevation of 6,500 feet were factors in naming it the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007.  If you make it out this far, you might want to spend the night under the stars at the campground.

Related Sites

Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – In 1992, how many tons of rock fell from Kachina Bridge (the youngest of the three)?

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Overview

As the only National Historical Reserve in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Ebey’s Landing is a unique 17,000-acre site under federal, state, county, town, and private ownership.  Located on Whidbey Island at the entrance to Puget Sound, it is accessible by ferry from the Seattle area and the Olympic Peninsula, or by driving Highway 20 across a bridge from the north (closer to Bellingham).  There are nearly one hundred historical structures protected by the reserve, mostly Victorian houses within Coupeville, Washington.

Highlights

Jacob Ebey House, Davis Blockhouse, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start your visit is at the Island County Historical Museum (which charges an admission fee) in Coupeville, Washington.  After enjoying the Victorian architecture in town, drive to the Jacob Ebey House, World War II-era Fort Ebey State Park, and Fort Casey State Park where you will find gun emplacements from 1901 and picturesque Admiralty Head Lighthouse. 

Best Trail

Much of Whidbey Island was prairie when it was settled in the 1850s, and remains pastoral, which is great for travelers looking for a glimpse back in time.  Located adjacent to farm fields, Bluff Trail is known for its great views on clear days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Admiralty Head Lighthouse provides a great photo op in Fort Casey State Park.  Gun emplacements built there became obsolete shortly after their installation due to the rise of the airplane.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None except at the 3 State Parks and Island County Historical Museum in Coupeville, Washington

Road Conditions

The main roads are all paved and any gravel roads are well-maintained.

Camping

Both Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park have campgrounds, and the latter provides shower facilities.

Related Sites

San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska-Washington)

Explore More – How many islands are there in Puget Sound (with the largest being Whidbey Island)?

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

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.

Saguaro National Park

Overview

The only U.S. National Park within the expansive Sonoran Desert is divided into two separate districts east and west of Tucson, Arizona.  Its namesake cactus can reach 50 feet in height and weigh more than 16,000 pounds when swelled with water during the rainy season.  Saguaros do not typically branch their first arms until age seventy-five and they can live over 200 years.  They share their home with other cacti that have cuddly names like teddybear cholla, hedgehog, barrel, staghorn cholla, and prickly pear.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Cactus Forest Drive, Desert Ecology Trail, Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, Desert Discovery Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are National Park Service (NPS) visitor centers in both the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.  In each district, opportunities for visitors include scenic drives, handicap-accessible nature trails, and more strenuous hiking options.  Much of the wildlife is nocturnal in the hot desert, but watch for unique species like javelinas, ringtails, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, phainopeplas, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and western diamondback rattlesnakes.

Best Trail

Hikers can find great overlooks of the surrounding mountains along the short Ridge View Trail in the eastern Rincon Mountain District of the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Winter is a great time to come to Saguaro National Park due to mild temperatures, but to see the desert in bloom the spring is best.  Saguaros typically bloom in early June, though their large white blooms are hard to photograph at the top of the tall cacti where moths, bats, and other pollinators can find them.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

In the Rincon Mountain District the Cactus Forest Drive is all paved, but in the Tucson Mountain District the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive is mostly a graded gravel road.

Camping

Only backcountry camping in designated sites (with a permit) is allowed in the National Park, but campgrounds are available at Tucson Mountain County Park just outside the western district and throughout Coronado National Forest which borders the eastern district.

Related Sites

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

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

Explore More – Tohono O’odham Indians utilized saguaro fruit for jam, syrup, and wine; at what age do the cacti start flowering?

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.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?