Tag Archives: forest

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?

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Overview

In Hopewell, Pennsylvania, the proximity of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal led to this iron furnace’s success from 1771 to 1883.  It also needed water from French Creek to run the air blast machinery allowing the furnace to reach smelting temperature.  During the American Revolution, it produced cannon, shot, and shells for the Continental Navy.  The 848-acre National Historic Site was authorized in 1938, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

Highlights

Anthracite furnace, film, cast house, tenant houses, ironmaster’s mansion, Bethesda Church

Must-Do Activity

Start with the short film at the visitor center, then take the self-guided walk through the “iron plantation.”  Though the cold-blast charcoal process became outdated by 1883, the original furnace is still used each summer to produce aluminum products.  Other costumed interpreters depict village life from late June to Labor Day.  In September and October, visitors can pick 30 varieties of apples in the orchards for a small fee, similar to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Best Trail

The site’s 12 miles of forested trails also connect into the neighboring French Creek State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the cast house, moulders cast molten iron into stove plates, cannonballs, and other products.

Peak Season

Summer and apple picking season

Hours

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

Fees

None, but “you pick” apples cost $1 per pound

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

French Creek State Park has more than 200 campsites with access to running water and showers.

Related Sites

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – How high of a temperature could the Hopewell Furnace reach when smelting?

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Ninety Six National Historic Site

Overview

Ninety Six was a bit of a misnomer for this 18th-century trading village in South Carolina.  It was estimated at the time to be 96 miles from a major Cherokee village, but was actually closer to 78.  Then again, Seventy Eight does not have the same ring to it, does it?  A small stockade built around a barn survived two attacks by Cherokees in the 1750s, then during the American Revolution the town fell into British hands after a battle on November 19, 1775.  They proceeded to build a star-shaped earthen fort that was partially reconstructed in the 1970s.

Highlights

Reconstructed Revolutionary War earthen fort, museum, film

Must-Do Activity

In 1781, six year after the town fell into British hands, a month-long Patriot siege led by General Nathanael Greene failed, but the Patriots abandoned their underground tunneling when they learned of British reinforcements arriving.  The British wound up retreating to Charleston anyway and burning the town behind them.  Ninety Six never fully recovered and remained undeveloped, which allowed archaeologists in the 1970s to rediscover the old tunnels and zigzag trenches designed by Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko. 

Best Trail

With interpretive pamphlet in hand, you can get a good idea of Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s strategy from atop the observation platform built along the one-mile self-guided trail.  The park also contains the 27-acre Star Fort Pond, which is accessible by road or the Cherokee Path Trail from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This is the only National Park Service site we know of where visitors are encouraged to brandish a musket.  They also have a pillory to pose in.

Peak Season

Spring and fall, since it can be very hot in the summer with little shade.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access road paved

Camping

Greenwood State Recreation Area has a campground on a lake about nine miles north.

Related Sites

Cowpens National Battlefield (South Carolina)

Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina)

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – Who was Robert Gouedy and why was he significant in the history of Ninety Six?

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Overview

In the remote southwest corner of Oregon, this marble cave system has been federally protected since 1909.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked extensively on the trail system and chateau-style lodge in the 1930s.  In 2014, an additional 4,000 acres were added to preserve the surrounding old-growth forests, the most biodiverse conifer-dominated ecosystem in the world.

Highlights

Cave tours, Oregon Caves Chateau, Big Tree, Mt. Elijah

Must-Do Activity

The Oregon Caves Chateau is currently closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen to guests in 2021.  That means the main reason to visit is to take a tour inside the cave, but bundle up because it remains a brisk 44°F year round.  The standard tour is 90 minutes, has a height requirement of 42 inches, and includes 500 stairs, which can be strenuous at 4,000 feet in elevation.  In the summer, a candlelight tour, off-trail “wild caving” tour, and family-friendly tour (for those with small children) are also offered.

Best Trail

The Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail covers 9.2 miles and gains 2,390 feet in elevation while providing the best views of the surrounding mountains.  At a minimum, you should try to hike the Big Tree Trail 2.6 miles roundtrip to the largest diameter Douglas-fir tree in Oregon.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After your cave tour exits far uphill from its entrance, continue on the Cliff Nature Trail for a great view of the lush Siskiyou Mountains.

Peak Season

Summer, since cave tours are only offered from late March through November.

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entrance fee to the park, but there is a charge for all cave tours (which can be reserved in advance).

Road Conditions

The paved entry road is winding and climbs steeply.  Most surrounding Forest Service roads are unpaved and one climbs to provide access near the top of the Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail.

Camping

Cave Creek Campground is located 4 miles from the cave entrance.  Trailers are only permitted at Grayback Campground, further down the hill.

Explore More – Which native conifer tree provided the siding for the Oregon Caves Chateau?