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Canaveral National Seashore

Overview

When NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) prevented this portion of Florida coast from development in the 1950s, surely they did not imagine it would soon become one of the last long stretches of wild coastline left on the Atlantic seaboard.  The area north of John F. Kennedy Space Center was set aside as Canaveral National Seashore (in 1975) and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in 1963).

Highlights

Eldora State House, shell mounds, wildlife, fishing, kayaking, beaches

Must-Do Activity

About 310 avian species have been spotted in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than birds, we were excited to see our first living armadillo and manatee outside of a zoo.  Despite its unappealing name, Mosquito Lagoon is a nice spot for fishing and paddling.  We hope someday to return to witness a rocket launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Best Trail

Human activity in Canaveral National Seashore is evident in Timucuan shell mounds that date back thousands of years, with a separate trail to Eldora State House preserving more recent history.  At the southern end of the park in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you will find Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, as well as Cruickshank Trail that leads to an observation tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park ranger told us the most likely place to see a West Indian manatee was at the boat launch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida just north of the park boundary.  There were also dolphins, great blue herons, anhingas, great egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, and royal terns.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle day use or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive and some boat launches are not.  Unlike at other National Seashores, there is no driving on the beach allowed, but you can bicycle or walk to remote Klondike Beach.

Camping

Inside the park boundaries there are no campgrounds, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

Related Sites

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

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Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Overview

On the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border, the Delaware River flows through a gap in the long ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  This marks the southern end of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the site of the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center (right off Interstate 80) managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  When preservationists fought to protect this area from being dammed in the 1960s it led to the creation of the National Recreation Area surrounding a 40-mile stretch of river designated as the Middle Delaware National Scenic River.

Highlights

Raymondskill Falls, Millbrook Village, Dingmans Falls, floating Middle Delaware National Scenic River

Must-Do Activity

Most of the NPS visitor centers are open seasonally in this resort area on the Pocono Plateau.  We visited in the offseason in late September and enjoyed hiking to Raymondskill, Silver Thread, and Dingmans Falls on the Pennsylvania side.  On the New Jersey side the main attraction is Millbrook Village, a recreated 1800s town that is open year round.  Fishing, swimming, and floating the Middle Delaware National Scenic River are popular in the summer.

Best Trail

There are more than 100 miles of trails within the park, including 27 miles of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail that leads to the top of Mt. Minsi for great views of the actual Delaware Water Gap.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A boardwalk trail passes 80-foot tall Silver Thread Falls on the way to 130-foot tall Dingmans Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for entry, but some sites have a user fee (Smithfield Beach, Milford Beach, etc.) and there are toll bridges across the river in places.

Road Conditions

There are several unpaved roads and toll bridges within the boundaries of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Camping

Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania

Campground options available in New Jersey include Worthington State Forest, High Point State Park, and Stokes State Forest.  Dingmans Campground on the Pennsylvania side offers discounts for the NPS Senior Pass. Primitive camping is allowed for thru-hikers on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and along the riverside for boaters.  Keep a clean campsite, as black bears are common.

Related Sites

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (New York-Pennsylvania)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

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Amistad National Recreation Area

Overview

Amistad translates as “friendship” from Spanish, which is fitting given that this reservoir is shared by the U.S. and Mexico.  Marinas and boat ramps provide access to the lake for watersports, like fishing and waterskiing.  The 254-foot tall dam across the Rio Grande was built in 1968 and serves as a customs station in Del Rio, Texas.  The National Park Service (NPS) runs a free museum nearby.

Highlights

Panther Cave pictographs, Seminole Canyon State Park, watersports

Must-Do Activity

Amistad National Recreation Area is also famous for its 4,000-year-old pictographs, which can most easily be accessed on guided tours of Seminole Canyon State Park, 45 miles outside Del Rio, Texas on Highway 90.  Admission is charged for the museum and tour, but provides the only way to see the colorful artwork in Fate Bell Shelter.  Viewing fossils in the limestone was an added bonus on the tour.

Best Trail

The pictographs in Panther Cave can be seen from afar by hiking a trail in the state park or up-close by boating to the dock and climbing a steep stairway. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to hike down into the canyon, the Seminole Canyon State Park museum has a replica of the rock art.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

Boating passes start at $4 for a 1-day pass, $8 per person to tour Seminole Canyon State Park

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Two NPS campgrounds are available at Governors Landing and San Pedro and there is a campground at Seminole Canyon State Park.

Related Sites

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

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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 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)

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