Tag Archives: driving tour

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Overview

Authorized in 1992, Little River Canyon National Preserve covers about 14,000 acres in northeast Alabama.  Elevations range from 1,900-foot tall Lookout Mountain down to 650-foot Weiss Lake reservoir, as the Little River plunges from the Cumberland Plateau.  With cliffs up to 600 feet in height, this unique gorge contains several endemic species of plants and animals.  Only the southern half of the preserve is readily accessible by roads, with DeSoto State Park offering the best way to see the northern section.

Highlights

Little River Falls, Canyon Mouth, Graces High Falls

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the Little River Canyon Center on Highway 35, then make the short drive to the parking area for 45-foot tall Little River Falls.  From there, drive Highway 176 for 11 miles along the west side of the canyon, which has nine scenic overlooks, including one for seasonal Graces High Falls.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails in the preserve, many of which drop steeply from the rim to the riverside.  At the southern end near the intersection of Highways 273 and 275 is Canyon Mouth, a flat trail that follows alongside the Little River.  There is better hiking and even more waterfalls in nearby DeSoto State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Graces High Falls is 133 feet tall, making it the tallest (aboveground) waterfall in Alabama, but it only flows in the spring and after large rain events.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None except at Canyon Mouth ($15 per day or America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

De Soto State Park offers camping, in addition to excellent hiking trails to several waterfalls.  There are also three backcountry campsites in Little River Canyon National Preserve available from February through September with a permit.

Related Sites

Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many endemic species of caddisflies are found in Little River Canyon and nowhere else on Earth?

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Overview

If the name Appomattox Court House rings a bell, that is because in U.S. History class you learned it was where the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.  There was a courthouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, but that is not where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed surrender papers; actually it was the home of Wilmer McLean.  In 1893, the McLean house was completely disassembled to be turned into an offsite museum, but was later brought back and rebuilt by the National Park Service (NPS).  The county jail is one of several other restored buildings in the park originally designated a National Monument in 1935 and changed to a National Historical Park in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed McLean House, guided tours

Must-Do Activity

The restored courthouse now serves as the NPS visitor center and museum, from where visitors can start their walk through Meeks General Store, Clover Hill Tavern, the county jail, and other period buildings.  Much of the furniture from the McLean House was taken as souvenirs by Union officers, as well as a doll owned by 7-year-old Lula McLean that was not returned until 1992.

Best Trail

A four-mile hiking trail connects the Village of Appomattox Court House with the April 9, 1865 battlefield and the two General’s headquarters.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You have to take a photo inside the restored room in the McLean house where Lee surrendered his army of 9,000 men, essentially ending the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but the campground at Holliday Lake State Park is only 12 miles away.

Related Sites

Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – Seven regiments of African American soldiers in the Union Army participated in the Battle of Appomattox Court House; how many men is that?

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Overview

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was authorized in 1890, the first park of its kind in the United States.  It covers multiple battlefields from late-1863 that straddle the Tennessee-Georgia borderline.  Though the Confederate army initially won at Chickamauga, Georgia, the Union took control of Chattanooga, Tennessee after the arrival of General Ulysses S. Grant with reinforcements in November.  Like Fort Monroe in Virginia, this area then became a beacon for escaped slaves, eventually numbering 2,000 people.

Highlights

Museums, film, driving tour, Point Park, Ochs Memorial Observatory, Cravens House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Point Park sits on top of Lookout Mountain offering awesome views of the city of Chattanooga and Moccasin Bend on the Tennessee River.  It is also the home of Ochs Memorial Observatory and museum, one reason Point Park charges an admission fee.  The nearby National Park Service (NPS) visitor center displays the 30×13-foot painting The Battle of Lookout Mountain by James Walker.  At the Chickamauga battlefield, a seven-mile long driving tour explains what happened there on September 20, 1863.  The National Military Park also entails seven small military reservations and the Phelps Monument along the road atop Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga.

Best Trail

There are miles of trails atop Lookout Mountain and Ochs Memorial Observatory is only accessible by trail (and many stair steps).  It contains a museum dedicated to the Civil War and American Indians, specifically the Cherokee who passed through Moccasin Bend (which has its own three-mile loop trail) on the Trail of Tears in 1838.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The entrance to Point Park is designed to look like the Army Corps of Engineers insignia.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to enter Point Park or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is limited free parking available at the NPS visitor center at Point Park.

Camping

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia is about 20 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Related Sites

Fort Donelson National Battlefield (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee-Mississippi)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Explore More – Why did President Abraham Lincoln consider capturing Chattanooga (a town of only 2,500) as important as Atlanta?

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

There are only a handful of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system that we feel do not deserve that level of recognition, and Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park is one of them.  Despite its lofty sounding name, almost none of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government.  The majority of the acreage is private and inaccessible, and the rest is managed by a variety of non-profit organizations making this site more suitable to have simply remained a portion of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District.  There are several National Heritage Corridors and affiliated sites much more deserving of inclusion on the NPS list of 419 units than this one.

Highlights

Hupp’s Hill Museum, driving tour, Belle Grove historic plantation

Must-Do Activity

If you need the stamp for your NPS passport, stop at the Visitor Contact Station located in a strip mall in Middletown, Virginia.  There you can pick up a free guide to help you follow the driving tour focused on the October 19, 1864 battle fought at Cedar Creek.  There is also a free app available on the park website.  Managed by a non-profit that organizes an annual reenactment of the battle, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park has a museum (fee).  You can also pay to take a tour of the manor house at Belle Grove.

Best Trail

When we visited in 2016, there was some talk of establishing a walking path with interpretive signs, and it now seems the Morning Attack Trails total 1.7 miles in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Available for guided tours (fee) between April and December, the manor house at Belle Grove plantation dates back to 1797.  Union General Philip Sheridan used the house as his headquarters in 1864 and most of his 31,600 camped on the property.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

Admission charged for guided tours of Belle Grove manor house and entrance to Hupp’s Hill Museum.

Road Conditions

Some of the roads on the driving tour are unpaved and not recommended for buses or RVs.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Belle Grove was owned by Isaac Hite, Jr. and his wife Nelly, who was the sister of which U.S. President?

Gettysburg National Military Park

Overview

The turning point of the Civil War undoubtedly occurred on July 3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, especially when considered in combination with the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  After the Confederate invasion of the North was repulsed at Antietam, the next year General Robert E. Lee led 75,000 troops into Pennsylvania to face 88,289 Union soldiers.  After three days of fighting, there were 51,000 men killed, wounded, or missing; the most of any battle on American soil.  It can take more than one full day to visit Gettysburg National Military Park, especially if you add on a bus tour to neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Highlights

Museum, film, Cyclorama painting, driving tour, David Wills House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

It is free to take the 24-mile long driving tour, but an admission fee is charged for the museum (opened in 2008) that covers the entire Civil War, including Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.  You should also consider watching the excellent 45-minute film A New Birth of Freedom (narrated by Morgan Freeman) and viewing the audio-visual program for the Cyclorama (a 377×42-foot original oil painting on a round canvas that depicts Pickett’s Charge of July 3, 1863).  Commercial bus tours are available and you can also hire a licensed guide to ride in your car and provide a personal two-hour tour past the 1,300 monuments and memorials where so many men gave “the last full measure.”

Best Trail

If you have read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, you will want to get out of your car and walk around Little Round Top, which overlooks the infamous Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, and Wheatfield.  The High Water Mark Trail and Soldiers’ National Cemetery Trail are each about one mile in length.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This site is perhaps best known for President Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address, which he gave in two minutes following a two-hour speech by Edward Everett.  Newspaper reviews from the next day were not favorable for the President.

Peak Season

Summer, though it was very busy even on a weekday in October 2016.

Hours

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

Fees

Free driving tour, $15 per adult for films and museum (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There a numerous private campgrounds around Gettysburg, and the National Park Service’s Catoctin Mountain Park is only 20 miles away, as are Caledonia and Corodus State Parks.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Eisenhower National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – When was the Cyclorama painting by French artist Paul Philippoteaux completed?

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