Tag Archives: fort

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Overview

When you park at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site you are in Montana, but as you walk to the fort you cross into North Dakota, changing time zones from Mountain to Central Time.  Strategically located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post lasted from 1828 to 1867 when it was sold to the U.S. Army who dismantled it to build Fort Buford two miles downstream.  Fort Union primarily traded with Plains Indians for bison hides, since beaver skin top hats were out of fashion by that point.

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Fort Buford State Historic Site, Missouri-Yellowstone River confluence

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the reconstructed Bourgeois (field agent) House, one of several buildings and palisades rebuilt between 1985 and 1991 using rot-resistant fir instead of the original cottonwood.  After touring Fort Union, drive to Fort Buford State Historic Site where a visitor center (fee) opened at the two rivers’ confluence in August 2003 as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration.

Best Trail

The Bodmer Overlook Trail climbs one mile to a point where Swiss painter Karl Bodmer sketched the fort in 1833.  The trailhead is located north of Highway 1804.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The colorful Bourgeois House is where the trading post manager lived.  A four-day fur-trade rendezvous is held annually at the park in June.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at the NPS site, but there is an entrance fee at Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is a campground at nearby Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Explore More – What famous ornithologist stayed at the fort in 1843?

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Overview

In the wake of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was anxious to know what he had just bought from France and find out if it provided an easy route to the Pacific Ocean.  He tapped his secretary Captain Meriwether Lewis as leader of the Corps of Discovery, who in turn named his former colleague Captain William Clark co-commander.  Lewis and Clark National Historical Park celebrates the wet winter of 1805-06 that the expedition spent on the coast of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Highlights

Fort Clatsop, Fort to Sea Trail, Cape Disappointment State Park, Fort Stevens State Park

Must-Do Activity

The park is spread across multiple sites, including scenic Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington, plus Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon.  Fort Clatsop was named a National Memorial in 1958 and still serves as the primary National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with exhibits and a film.  Other points of interest include the spot Sacagawea visited to see a beached whale and the salt works where seawater was boiled to produce the necessary commodity for the return trip.

Best Trail

When the Corps of Discovery finally saw the Pacific Ocean on November 7, 1805, Clark journaled, “Ocian in view! O! the joy.”  You can follow in their footsteps by starting at Fort Clatsop then hiking the 6.5-mile one-way Fort to Sea Trail, which marks the terminus of the 4,900-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (which is mostly a driving route).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Clatsop is a well-made replica of the small structure where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 and inside you will find rustic furniture similar to that built in 1805.

Peak Season

Summer for costumed demonstrations, though a winter visit would be more historically accurate.

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Clatsop (or America the Beautiful pass) and each State Park has a separate entry fee

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast has hundreds of campsites for tents and RVs, and there is also camping available at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington)

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Explore More – Where did the Corps of Discovery spend the winter prior to Fort Clatsop and first meet Sacagawea?

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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?