Tag Archives: hiking

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

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Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

The Shenandoah Valley was the Confederate States of America’s “breadbasket” in the 1860s and thus had strategic importance during the Civil War.  This led to numerous skirmishes and the fight that took place on October 19, 1864 is commemorated at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.  Little of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government, but the National Park Service (NPS) has done a significant amount of work to improve its interpretive signage since our first visit in 2016.

Highlights

Morning Attack Trails, driving tour, Hupp’s Hill Museum, 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’s 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

The Morning Attack Trails are located next to the NPS Headquarters off Highway 11 with interpretive signage placed on the 300-yard long 8th Vermont Monument Trail, 0.6-mile Thomas Brigade Loop, and 0.7-mile Hayes-Ramseur Loop.

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 troops 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?

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Overview

Archaeological evidence suggests indigenous farmers lived around the Gila River dating back thousands of years, but the cliff dwellings were only briefly inhabited between AD 1270 and 1300.  After their initial discovery by Anglo-American settlers in 1878 heavy looting occurred, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to establish Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907.  It is not an easy part of the country to access, but offers two incredibly scenic drives through the Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico.  Plan to spend at least a couple days in the area, maybe hiking or backpacking to some hot springs.

Highlights

Museum, film, ruins, scenic views, hot springs in area

Must-Do Activity

The Gila Visitor Center is jointly managed for the 533-acre National Monument and 558,000-acre Gila Wilderness (which in 1924 became the world’s first designated Wilderness).  From the National Park Service (NPS) contact station located just down the road, a one-mile loop trail climbs 180 feet to a well-preserved collection of cliff dwellings.  If you find that you enjoy climbing ladders up to cliff dwellings, then check out Bandelier National Monument and Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Trail

The trailhead also provides access to the Gila Wilderness, so watch for backpackers on the road and black bears along the West Fork Gila River.  Lightfeather Hot Springs is less than one mile from a different trailhead located closer to the Gila Visitor Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are about 40 rooms in the cliff dwelling ruins, which housed approximately ten families.  The south-facing cliff dwellings received the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but narrow and curvy, especially Highway 15 that heads north from Silver City, New Mexico.

Camping

Upper and Lower Scorpion Campgrounds are located just outside the National Monument boundaries in Gila National Forest.  No permits are necessary to backpack in the Gila Wilderness.

Related Sites

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – The people who built the cliff dwellings were part of what culture, with pottery designs unique to the Tularosa phase (AD 1100 to 1300)?

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

Overview

Even in the wake of Patriot victories at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, the British army was not giving up their southern colonies without a fight.  Major General Nathanael Greene was in charge of the Continental Army in the southern theater and his troops were aggressively pursued by British General Charles Cornwallis.  Although he lost the battle on March 15, 1781, Greene’s name was later applied to the nearby town of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Highlights

Museum, film, Hoskins Farm, Major General Nathanael Greene statue

Must-Do Activity

Start at the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center, watch the short film (also available on the NPS website), then make stops along the 2.25-mile auto tour.  You will learn the story of what took place on March 15, 1781, when Greene’s defensive position at Guilford Courthouse was attacked by British forces.  While the Patriots withdrew they only suffered 7% casualties, compared to the British who lost 28% of their army, leading them to eventually retreat to Yorktown, Virginia.  After the battle, Greene continued to fight, leading his men against overmatched backcountry outposts of British troops such as the one at Ninety Six, South Carolina. 

Best Trail

In addition to the auto tour route, a paved bicycle path wends through the battlefield.  The lovely 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is heavily utilized for recreation by the local people of Greensboro.  As such, you are allowed to walk your dog in the park. In the summer, you can also walk around Hoskins Farm, though its buildings are closed, as is the old Colonial Heritage Center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Many monuments line the pathways that cut through 229-acre Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, with the equestrian statue of Major General Nathanael Greene being the most prominent.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

The city of Greensboro operates a campground with showers south of town.

Explore More – Which British politician remarked, “Another such victory would destroy the British Army” following the battle at Guilford Courthouse?

Kenai Fjords National Park

Overview

Our favorite of the eight National Parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords.  It is a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Boat tours leave from the port of Seward and travel up beautiful Resurrection Bay, a long saltwater-filled valley (or fjord).  The town was named in 1903 for the Secretary of State who purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867 for less than two cents per acre, a move then known as “Seward’s Folly.”  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park accessible by road and is worth the side trip. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Exit Glacier, boat tours, tidewater glaciers, marine wildlife

Must-Do Activity

A tour boat is the easiest way to get up close to the variety of marine mammals and seabirds, but hardier souls can kayak the silty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.  Along the route to actively calving Aialik Glacier, you will see an abundance of wildlife: orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, cormorants, and so much more.  Some tour boats have a National Park Service ranger on board to narrate, answer questions, and help kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Tour boats get you close to the action to witness a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean.  These glaciers are one of 32 arms of the massive Harding Ice Field.

Best Trail

It is a short and worthwhile hike from the parking lot to the face of the rapidly receding Exit Glacier; black bears are common in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  You can continue hiking the steep 3.7-mile one-way trail up to 3,500 feet to view the expansive Harding Ice Field, but that requires at least four hours, serious endurance, and gear for the winter conditions that persist year round at that elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bundle up as it gets chilly when you pull up close to the actively calving Aialik Glacier.  You will be tempted to try capturing it all on your camera, but take some time to experience the action with your eyes, not through a viewfinder. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at Exit Glacier; boat tours cost about $200 per person

Road Conditions

The roads to Exit Glacier and Seward, Alaska are paved.

Camping

Two public-use cabins are available for rent in the summer and only accessible by water.  A free 12-site, walk-in tent campground is available at Exit Glacier, plus a winter-use cabin.  There are multiple RV parks in Seward, Alaska, a beautiful place to spend a few days fishing and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (recommended to do before your boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park).

Related Sites

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

This design we created to celebrate Kenai Fjords National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Who is Rockwell Kent and what is his connection with Resurrection Bay (hint: check out our Top 10 list of Alaska non-fiction books)?

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