Tag Archives: hiking

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Overview

Jean Lafitte was a New Orleans “privateer” (a.k.a. pirate) who assisted General Andrew Jackson in the fight with the British after the War of 1812 had officially ended.  In addition to three Acadian Cultural Centers spread throughout southwestern Louisiana and a small visitor center in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the NPS also offers trails and boat tours (fee) through the bayou.

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Highlights

Barataria Preserve, Chalmette Battlefield, French Quarter, boat tours

Must-Do Activity

Every American needs to visit the French Quarter at least once in their life, but also make sure you visit the 24,000-acre Barataria Preserve to experience the bayous of Louisiana, whether you hike or take a boat.

Best Trail

South of downtown New Orleans off Highway 45 in the Barataria Preserve, keep your feet dry by hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look up when hiking in the bayou to find huge spiders, like this golden silk orb-weaver.

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Peak Season

Summers are muggy and buggy, but the park’s many visitor centers are closed only two days per year: Christmas and Mardi Gras.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but in 2016 we camped at Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburbs of New Orleans.

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Learn about the region’s music, food, and culture at the French Quarter visitor center in downtown New Orleans.
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Exhibits in the Old U.S. Mint are free
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Hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.
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Spanish moss drapes from the trees in the humid climate of the Mississippi River delta.
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The bayou stretches for miles in the undeveloped areas around New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Mammoth Cave National Park

Overview

Archaeologists have found evidence of exploration dating back 4,000 years when torches of cane were used to light the way.  Mammoth Cave does not get its name from hairy prehistoric mammals, though, but rather from the vast size of its tunnels.  It has been a tourist attraction since the 1700s when slaves served as tour guides, but only became a national park in 1941.

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Highlights

Bottomless Pit and Fat Man’s Misery on the Historic Tour, Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour, Wild Caving Tour

Must-Do Activity

There are many great options to explore the cave, including the Violet City Lantern Tour, but we most enjoyed the Wild Caving Tour.  Make an advanced reservation online to secure your spot (and your blue jumpsuit to keep the mud off your clothes).

Best Trail

There are nearly 80 miles of hiking trails in the park, but start by hiking downhill past the Natural Entrance of Mammoth Cave to the River Styx Spring, a short walk from the visitor center.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Keep your eye out for 2-inch long cave crickets on the Domes and Dripstones Tour.  Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed on the Wild Caving Tour.

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Peak Season

The park receives the majority of its half-million annual visitors in the summer, making December a great time to visit the park (though not all tours are offered).

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/maca/planyourvisit/operatinghoursandseasons.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but cave tours have varying prices.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

A large, shaded campground is located near the visitor center, as well as a smaller one at Houchin’s Ferry (not suitable for trailers or RVs).

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Tiff at the Natural Entrance to the cave where you start the Historic Tour
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Scott on the Historic Tour
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Frozen Niagara flowstone formation on the Domes and Dripstones Tour
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Tiff traversing Fat Man’s Missery.

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Ready for the Wild Caving Tour
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This design we created to celebrate Mammoth Cave National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

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Effigy Mounds National Monument

Overview

This site in northeastern Iowa contains 206 prehistoric earthen mounds, thirty-one of which are in the form of bears and birds.  Some of the rounded mounds have been dated back 2,500 years, but the images of animals (called effigies) began only about 1,400 years ago.  In addition to blades and beads inside the mounds, there is often evidence of fires burned in the effigy’s head, heart, or flank, perhaps as part of a burial ceremony.

Echo with Effigy Mounds

Highlights

Marching Bear Mound Group, Little Bear Mound Group, Mississippi River overlooks

Must-Do Activity

After perusing the museum inside the visitor center, take the steep trail that leads past Little Bear Mound Group to multiple overlooks from 300-foot tall bluffs above the Mississippi River.

Best Trail

Located a short drive from the visitor center, a trail in the South Unit climbs 2 miles one-way to the impressive Marching Bears Mound Group, the densest collection of effigies in the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is very difficult to photograph the effigy shapes, so the best shots are found at overlooks of the Mississippi River.

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Peak Season

Summer, but on our second visit during April we found the animal shapes were easier to discern.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All paved except the parking area for the South Unit which may not be suitable for large RVs.

Camping

No campground in the monument, but nearby Pikes Peak State Park has RV hookups and Yellow River State Forest offers more primitive sites.

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Little Bear Mound
The mounds can be hard to discern in the summertime

Tiff next to two of the tallest mounds in the park

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In April, we saw these bear shapes located at the end of the Marching Bear Group, a 4-mile roundtrip hike.

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There is a picnic area at the southern trailhead on the banks of the Mississippi River.

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Coots in the Mississippi River

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Indiana Dunes National Park

Overview

A 20th-century battleground east of Chicago between industrialists seeking to build more steel mills and conservationists wanting to preserve natural diversity, in 1966 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was created as a compromise between the opposing sides.  Its scattered bogs and dunes surround a beachside state park on Lake Michigan that dates back to the 1920s, with an Art Deco bathhouse dating to that era.

Update: As of February 15, 2019 it is called Indiana Dunes National Park.

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Highlights

West Beach, Mount Baldy, Glenwood Dunes Trail, heron rookery

Must-Do Activity

It is worth the price of admission to access the trail system within Indiana Dunes State Park to complete the 3 Dunes Challenge.  Take your photos back to the joint NPS-State Park visitor center to claim your prizes.

Best Trail

Cowles Bog Trail covers 5 rugged miles and accesses an isolated beach with views of the Chicago skyline.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Beach grasses with a backdrop of a steel mill are a surreal mix on the Cowles Bog Trail.

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Peak Season

The park is open year round, with the Lake Michigan beaches attracting crowds in the summer.

Hours

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

Fees

No admission for most of the National Park, except $6 per vehicle for summer lifeguards at West Beach and $12 per vehicle day use fee year round to enter Indiana Dunes State Park.

Road Conditions

All roads are paved.

Camping

While it is not on the beach, we enjoyed the quiet Dunewood Campground (fee) with its hot showers.

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Historic bathhouse at Indiana Dunes State Park.

 

Climbing the dunes - there was a hiking challenge, so we had to do it
Tiff hiking up a sand dune.

 

A view of Chicago from the dunes
The Chicago skyline is visible from the beach.

Baby geese!

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Dunewood Campground

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

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City of Rocks National Reserve

Overview

In the high desert of southeast Idaho stands a collection of granite spires that served as a welcome rest stop along the California Trail.   At the height of the gold rush in 1852, some 50,000 pioneers passed this site in a single year.  Many left their names painted in axle grease, still legible on Camp Rock and Register Rock.  Today it is a popular destination for rock climbers from around the world, but also has 22 miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

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Highlights

Rock climbing, Register Rock, Window Arch, primitive camping

Must-Do Activity

Rock climbers flock here from around the world to take on the granite spires that inspired emigrants on the California Gold Rush Trail to name it City of Rocks.  The grippy granite is fun for any skill level to clamber around on and easily accessible from all campsites.

Best Trail

Trails snake through this area leading to different climbing routes, especially around Elephant Rock, which is a great place to watch other climbers.  Keep watching the skies, too, as a variety of raptors (and pigeons) enjoy the thermals here.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Window Arch is a great place to watch the sun come up, just try not to wake up campers in the neighboring sites.

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Peak Season

Summer, since it is very cold at this elevation (7,000 feet) in other seasons.  Autumn briefly turns aspen leaves yellow.

Hours

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

Fees

Free to enter and only $12.72 to camp per night (so bring exact change)

Road Conditions

A dirt road winds through the park and is accessible to passenger vehicles.

Camping

78 primitive campsites located off the dirt Emery Canyon Road, with several nice sites sit right next to Window Arch.  For more upscale accommodations try the Lodge and Bunkhouse at nearby Castle Rocks State Park.

Lots of fins

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One of the more famous inscriptions
Emigrants on the California Trail passed right through here.

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