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Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest

Florida

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

634,042 acres (563,403 federal/ 70,639 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/florida/home

Overview

Apalachicola National Forest is the largest of the four National Forests in Florida and also manages the tiny 1,152-acre Choctawhatchee National Forest (which is off limits to the public on a military base, so we did not include it in our total of 155 National Forests).  The forests proximity to the state capital of Tallahassee makes it an outdoor recreation destination in the Florida Panhandle.

Highlights

Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway, Fort Gadsden Historic Site (closed), Ochlockonee River, Rock Bluff Scenic Area, Leon Sinks Geological Area (closed), Morrison Hammock Scenic Area, Silver Lake Recreation Area, Camel Lake Recreation Area, Post Office Bay, Florida National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

When we visited Apalachicola National Forest in April 2021, two of its biggest attractions were closed from hurricane damage: Fort Gadsden Historic Site and Leon Sinks Geological Area (a series of sinkholes in limestone karst).  We finally ended up at Camel Lake Recreation Area (day-use fee) where the beach was closed due to alligator presence, so we opted to hike a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail.  We also made a stop to see the swamp at Big Gully Landing boat launch where Equaloxic Creek flows six miles west to the Apalachicola River.  We read that canoeing the Ochlockonee River is a popular activity.

Best Trail

Apalachicola National Forest includes 67 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST).  We hiked a portion of it at Camel Lake Recreation Area hoping to find where it connected to the Trail of Lakes nine-mile loop, but we never did locate the junction.  We read that the segment of the FNST from Oak Park Trailhead along the Sopchoppy River bluffs is especially beautiful.  Closer to the capital city, busy trails include the 14.4-mile Tallahassee Saint Marks Historic Rail Trail, 30-mile Vinzant Horse Trail, and 8.3-mile Munson Hills Trail (which is popular with mountain bikers).

Watchable Wildlife

When we think of Florida wildlife the first animal that comes to mind is the alligator, so it was no surprise that the swimming beach at Camel Lake Recreation Area was closed due to their presence.  Other places to see alligators are Tate’s Hell Swamp and the Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness.  Cottonmouth snakes and plentiful mosquitoes also make the swamps uninviting to guests.  We were surprised to see signs warning of black bears since that is not an animal we associate with Florida.  Other wildlife includes turkeys, fox squirrels, gray foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and armadillos.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stands of longleaf pine and turkey oak had us reminiscing about hiking the sandy trails on the coastal plains of North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

There was a day-use fee at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but it was half-off with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

The unpaved roads were hard-packed sand, so they were in really good shape during our visit.

Camping

There was a nice 10-site campground (fee) suitable for RVs at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but there is no camping at Silver Lake Recreation Area closer to Tallahassee, Florida.

Wilderness Areas

Bradwell Bay Wilderness

Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness

Related Sites

Osceola National Forest (Florida)

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Everglades (Florida)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, pondcypress, longleaf pine, spruce pine, pond pine, slash pine, loblolly pine, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

magnolia bay, sweetbay, black titi, myrtleleaf holly, swamp cyrilla, black cherry, sassafras, Darlington oak, southern red oak, live oak, bluejack oak, turkey oak, laurel oak, diamondleaf oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, water hickory, persimmon, black gum, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, basswood, American beech, sweetgum, ogeechee lime, swamp azalea, swamp cottonwood, pop ash, black willow, red buckeye, horse sugar tree

Explore More – Black titi is a shrub in this part of the world, but in Puerto Rico it grows as a large tree with what common name?

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Fort Bowie National Historic Site

Overview

The spring at Apache Pass has attracted humans to this part of the Sonoran Desert for hundreds of years (at least).  As you might have guessed from its name, the Apaches were the area’s inhabitants when the Butterfield Overland Mail route built a station here in 1858.  Four years later, after Apaches ambushed the Union Army during the Civil War, they constructed Fort Bowie to help keep peace in New Mexico.  The fort received an upgrade in 1868, and then was used to fight against Cochise and Geronimo until it was finally abandoned in 1894.

Highlights

Fort Bowie ruins, cemetery, stage station ruins, site of wagon train massacre

Must-Do Activity

To visit the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, the literal “must-do activity” is to hike 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  You do pass interpretive signs, a cemetery, and ruins along the way, plus you earn an “I Hike For Health” pin just by getting there.  For those unable to hike the trail, contact the NPS for alternate access directions.

Best Trail

Getting to the NPS visitor center means hiking three miles roundtrip in a shadeless desert.  If it is a nice day, make a loop of it by taking Overlook Ridge on the way back to the trailhead.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The post cemetery has freshly-painted wooden grave markers, including one for Geronimo’s two-year-old son.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access to this NPS site requires driving a graded dirt road that is impassable during flash floods.

Camping

Private campgrounds are available in Bowie and Wilcox, Arizona, but we recommend a night at the NPS campground in Chiricahua National Monument (which is well-known for its ringtail and coati sightings).

Related Sites

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacacori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Explore More – When did Geronimo finally surrender to U.S. troops before being sent to Fort Bowie and on to Florida’s Fort Pickens (now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore)?

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Overview

The Timucuan Indians inhabited northeastern Florida’s coastal wetlands and maritime hammocks when French colonists first arrived in 1562.  The settlers constructed Fort Caroline (a National Memorial established in 1950), which the National Park Service (NPS) administers as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum at Fort Caroline National Memorial, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  Then you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular Fort Caroline based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.

Highlights

Fort Caroline, Kingsley Plantation, Theodore Roosevelt Area

Must-Do Activity

The second place the NPS manages a visitor center is at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island east of Jacksonville, Florida.  Established in 1798, it is the oldest remaining plantation house in Florida.  Slaves here harvested Sea Island cotton, which is still grown in a small garden alongside indigo, another regional cash crop.  Visitors can take a self-guided trail around the property, but tours inside the main plantation house are only offered on weekends and require a reservation.

Best Trail

The 1.5-mile Willie Browne Trail winds through the 600 undeveloped acres at Theodore Roosevelt Area, donated by the trail’s namesake to the Nature Conservancy in 1969.  The Spanish Pond Trail connects this trail with Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tabby walls of 23 of the original 32 slave quarters still stand in a row at Kingsley Plantation. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but the fastest route between Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation is probably via the St. Johns River Ferry.

Camping

The NPS does not have a campground, but nearby Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park all do.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Explore More – Florida had “relatively liberal” racial policies under Spanish rule, but that changed when it became a U.S. territory in what year?

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Overview

The Keweenaw Peninsula juts north into Lake Superior from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is home to the richest copper ore (97% pure) on the planet.  American Indian artifacts made from this region’s copper have been found at several other National Park Service (NPS) sites, such as Georgia’s Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park and Ohio’s Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.  In the 1840s, immigrants representing 38 ethnic groups flooded this area to work as miners.  More recently, the NPS led a project to recreate historic buildings and archaeological sites within the digital world of Minecraft (click here for an article).

Highlights

Adventure Mine Tours, Quincy Mine, Delaware Copper Mine, downtown Calumet, Laurinium Mansion

Must-Do Activity

The NPS does not have much of a presence in this park, but rather relies on its partners to preserve the heritage sites.  We highly recommend the Miner’s Tour guided by the Adventure Mining Company in Greenland, Michigan.  In addition to getting a great history lesson, we rappelled down an 80-foot deep mine shaft and walked across a swinging bridge without handrails.  They also offer a less intense tour for all ages.

Best Trail

We walked the streets of Calumet, Michigan while doing our laundry across the street from the historic Calumet Theatre.  The NPS visitor center was closed, but we still got to see the Copper Country Firefighters History Museum and the Keweenaw Heritage Center inside St. Anne’s Church.  We also recommend a stop at the quirky vintage consignment store in the three-story Vertin Building built in 1885.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Quincy Mine is the most tourist-friendly part of Keweenaw National Historical Park offering a museum, tram ride, and underground mine tours.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

No NPS fees, but each heritage site charges its own admission with one of the cheapest being the $1 donation per person requested at the Copper Range Historical Museum in South Range, Michigan.

Road Conditions

Most roads are paved, with the exception of the short gravel road to the Adventure Mining Company.

Camping

Fort Wilkins and McLain State Parks both have campgrounds and dispersed campsites can be found in parts of Ottawa National Forest.  Backpacking is popular in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Related Sites

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Effigy Mounds National Monument (Iowa)

Explore More – How deep was the shaft dug at Quincy Mine before it was closed in 1945 and allowed to fill with water?

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Overview

Like Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama, President Obama established Reconstruction Era National Monument in 2017.  The park is located about an hour south of Charleston, South Carolina and is still under development, but they already have a Junior Ranger program.  The Reconstruction Era took place following the Civil War when the U.S. military helped freed African-American slaves integrate into southern society.  It was a complicated and mostly failed social experiment with long-lasting repercussions within American culture.

Highlights

Old Beaufort Firehouse, Robert Smalls Memorial, Camp Saxton, Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

We recommend the ranger-guided tour of Camp Saxton that leaves from the National Park Service (NPS) operated Porter’s Chapel, next to the skate park in Port Royal, South Carolina.  Following the loss of Fort Sumter, the Union Army occupied this area by late-1861, eventually training former slaves to serve as soldiers.  There is nothing left to see of the camp, but there are tabby walls from old Fort Frederick.  After a short walk, the park ranger will help you imagine what the scene would have looked like when the black soldiers were officially freed on Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863.

Best Trail

You can walk around the historic Penn Center (guided tours offered) where the NPS maintains a visitor center in Darrah Hall, a donated part of this National Historic Landmark that has a long history of African-American education. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Old Sheldon Church Ruins are not technically part of the park, but they are located just down the road from the Penn Center.  The Parrish Church of St. Helena outside Beaufort is also very photogenic.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major access roads are paved, although parking can be scarce around Port Royal during the farmers’ market.

Camping

Hunting Island and Edisto Beach State Parks both take camping reservations, so book early.  There are also campgrounds and backcountry campsites north of Charleston, South Carolina in Francis Marion National Forest.

Related Sites

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park (South Carolina)

Camp Nelson Heritage National Monument (Kentucky)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – How did future U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls escape slavery during the Civil War?