Tag Archives: hiking

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Overview

Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range that also includes Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.  Lassen Peak last erupted from 1914 to 1917, prompting its creation as a National Park.  Access is limited during the long winters, but you can go cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in adjacent Lassen National Forest.

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

Highlights

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Peak Trail, Sulphur Works, Manzanita Lake

Must-Do Activity

Many hikers make it to the 10,457-foot summit of the dormant volcano for fantastic views of Lake Almanor and Mount Shasta.  If you are not up for a 2,000 foot elevation gain, then make sure to take the flatter trail to Bumpass Hell, a colorful collection of geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs that is like a miniature Yellowstone National Park.  June may be a little early to visit after heavy snow years, so aim for late-July or August instead.

Best Trail

In the park’s remote northeast corner, a hike to the well-named Painted Dunes is worth the effort.  From that point you can climb up the shifting trail to the top of the cinder cone for great views of the colorful lava bed, turquoise Butte Lake, and snow-covered Lassen Peak.  Expect to get a lot of jagged cinders in your shoes unless you come prepared.  If you continue your ramble you can hook up with the 2,663-mile long Pacific Crest Trail which cuts through the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a great view down into Bumpass Hell as you approach it from the trail.  Note the snowbanks lasting into late August.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Even if the paved road across the park’s high country is closed in early summer, try making it down the dirt road to Butte Lake (at a lower elevation) in the northeast corner of the park.

Camping

There are seasonal campgrounds within the park, or try finding a dispersed campsite on the dirt roads of surrounding Lassen National Forest.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

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

Explore More – More than 400,000 year ago, much of the western half of the National Park was one large composite volcano estimated to have been 11 miles in diameter and how many feet in elevation?

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St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Overview

Since 1972, about 255 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers have been protected along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  It is a popular route for paddlers and tube floaters, in addition to providing invaluable habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, great blue herons, and 40 species of native mussels.  There are a few dams along the rivers and regulations vary by who manages different sections, so it is important to know the rules before you launch your boat.

Highlights

Trego Nature Trail, Sandrock Cliffs, Interstate State Parks

Must-Do Activity

There is a long scenic byway that follows the St. Croix River north from its confluence with the Mississippi River (south of Minneapolis) near the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the seasonal Namekegon River Visitor Center on a stretch of water that is good for floating.  If you do not have a boat, just down the road try the 2.8-mile roundtrip Trego Nature Trail that follows the Namekegon River through a forest of white pine, bigtooth aspen, and paper birch trees.

Best Trail

Wisconsin Interstate State Park is located on the St. Croix River and is the western terminus for the partially completed 1,200-mile long Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin Interstate State Parks are great places to learn about potholes (up to 15-foot deep bowls carved into solid rock) formed by boulders caught in whirlpools during glacial melting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved, but some (like the side road to Trego Nature Trail) are good gravel.

Camping

Developed campgrounds can be found in the numerous state parks and state forests along the rivers.  Only designated riverside campsites can be used by those paddling (except in the Stillwater Islands area), but no reservations are accepted.

Related Sites

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Explore More – A major proponent of creating this park, Senator Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin and helped pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as founding what annual holiday in 1970?

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 (NPS) 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)

Explore More – What did the city of Minneapolis do to make sure Minnehaha Falls was flowing for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit during the 1964 drought?

El Malpais National Monument

Overview

Navajo legend states that during a battle on Mount Taylor, the Twin Gods struck off a giant’s head which became Cabezon Peak, its blood flowing southward, coagulating into the Malpais.  Meaning “the badland” in Spanish, this National Monument contains lava tubes and ice caves among its 114,000 rugged acres.  Easily accessible from Interstate 40, it does not take long before you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere watching beautiful patterns of cloud shadows drift slowly across the landscape.

Highlights

El Calderon lava tubes, Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, Zuni-Acoma Trail, La Ventana Natural Arch

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to take a hike to truly appreciate these lava flows, the most recent of which inundated agricultural fields of the Acoma people as recently as the 1400s.  Carefully stepping across the jagged rocks, we wondered if another cinder cone may be forthcoming to the region.  Geologists suggest that the volcanic activity in this area has ceased indefinitely, yet some of the eruptions here go back over a million years, making us wonder if it is only a temporary lull.  Be careful during the monsoon season, when giant cumulostratus clouds form in the wide-open blue sky foretelling afternoon thunderstorms. 

Best Trail

Lava tube caves are a major attraction to the park (and are sometimes closed), but before entering you must pick up a free permit to ensure you do not spread white-nosed bat syndrome.  El Calderon Area is easier to access than the rough road to Big Tubes Area, and in a 3.8-mile loop passes a cinder cone and bat cave, then enters a lava tube.  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and difficult 7.5-mile Zuni-Acoma Trail also traverse this mostly shadeless environment.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take the short hike back to stand below towering La Ventana Natural Arch and enjoy the aroma of juniper wafting through the desert air.  It is technically in the Bureau of Land Management’s El Malpais National Conservation Area, not the neighboring National Monument run by the National Park Service.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most trailheads are off paved roads, but some roads in El Malpais National Monument require four-wheel drive (especially when wet), so check at a visitor center before setting out.

Camping

There are no developed campgrounds, but primitive camping is allowed on back roads and in the surrounding Cibola National Forest.  On Interstate 40, Bluewater Lake State Park has full RV hookups.  There is also a small campground located west down Highway 53 in El Morro National Monument.

Related Sites

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Explore More – Privately owned and open for tourists, what makes nearby Bandera Crater special?

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Overview

Similar to the other National Park Service (NPS) sites in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area (see Related Sites below), visiting Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area requires navigating many suburban streets.  Established in 1978, this park is a combination of government jurisdictions and private land that protects 48 miles of the Chattahoochee River downstream from Lake Sidney Lanier northeast of the city.  Due to its lack of large rapids it is popular with canoers, although a release from Buford Dam can lead to a quick rise in river levels and the water is typically a chilly 44° to 58°F.

Highlights

Hewlett Lodge, Vickery Creek, Cochran Shoals, Sope Creek mountain bike trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start your visit is the NPS headquarters at Island Ford, which is housed in Hewlett Lodge, a beautiful Adirondack-style mansion built in the 1930s.  There you can get information about hiking, canoeing, and fishing within the National Recreation Area.  You can also walk down to the river’s edge to watch boaters and wildlife from shore.  Not far away in Roswell, Georgia, a short creekside trail leads to the ruins of a textile mill and a dam.

Best Trail

Most sections of the park have some type of hiking trail and there is a wetlands boardwalk within the Cochran Shoals unit.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The covered walking bridge is quite photogenic at the old mill in Roswell, Georgia.

Peak Season

Summer (although we have heard from an Alan Jackson song that it can get “hotter than a hootchie cootchie”)

Hours

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

Fees

Parking fee of $5 per day or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping is allowed along the river.  The U.S. Corps of Engineers manages campgrounds on Lake Sidney Lanier at the northeastern end of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (Georgia)

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park (Georgia)

Explore More – How long is the Chattahoochee River from its mountain headwaters to its confluence with the Flint River at Lake Seminole?