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Bienville National Forest

Bienville National Forest

Mississippi

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

382,821 acres (178,541 federal/ 204,280 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/mississippi

Overview

Managed collectively with Mississippi’s five other National Forests, Bienville is centered around the town of Forest, which has numerous rooster statues.  The ranger station is located just south of Interstate 20 and has an interpretive trail that passes a pond on a half-mile loop.  Just north of the freeway, there is Harrell Prairie Hill National Natural Landmark and 189 acres of old-growth forest protected in Bienville Pines Scenic Area (which we could not locate any signs nor trailheads to access).

Highlights

Harrell Prairie Hill National Natural Landmark, Marathon Lake Recreation Area, Coursey Lookout Tower, Shongelo Lake Recreation Area, Shockaloe Horse Trail

Must-Do Activity

Marathon Lake is 50 acres in size and got its name from Marathon Lumber Company, which closed in 1929.  The lake was built in the 1950s for recreation in the former logging camp.  Bienville National Forest also has the upper courses of the Leaf and Strong Rivers and several other lakes, including five-acre Shongelo Lake (with a swimming area and hiking trail open May to September), 67-acre Beaver Lake (open year round), and 33-acre Greentree Reservoir (open year round).

Best Trail

Despite the lake being at flood levels that submerged many parts of the trail, we circumnavigated Marathon Lake in about 1.7 miles and didn’t get our feet wet.  The 22-mile long Shockaloe Horse Trail was too muddy for us to hike in April.

Watchable Wildlife

The National Forest’s lakes have largemouth bass, bream, catfish, and crappie that attract fishermen.  At Marathon Lake we saw several great egrets, little blue herons, and a very noisy murder of crows.  Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers nest in large pines trees (at least 60 years old), especially longleaf pines.  Gray rat snakes can climb trees, so red-cockaded woodpeckers drill small holes around their nesting cavity because fresh pine resin causes the snakes to turn around or slip off the tree.  There are three Wildlife Management Areas within Beinville National Forest that provide hunting opportunities for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and invasive wild pigs.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Harrell Prairie is the largest and least disturbed alkaline prairie in the state and is burned about every three years to maintain native vegetation.  It is located down Forest Road 518 in Caney Creek Wildlife Management Area, which is closed May 2 to September 14, perhaps to protect wildflowers.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

There is a $5 day-use fee at Shongalo Lake and Marathon Lake, but no day-use fee at the Shockaloe Trailhead or Greentree Reservoir.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads were in good condition in April, even when the trails were flooded and muddy.

Camping

Marathon Lake has 34 campsites ($20 per night with water and electric hook-ups), a boat ramp, a swimming area, and two bath houses with warm showers.  Camping is only $7 per night at Shockaloe Base Camp I, but no camping is allowed at Base Camp II.

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (Mississippi-Alabama-Tennessee)

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi)

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Nearest National Park

Hot Springs (Arkansas)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, loblolly pine, longleaf pine, shortleaf pine

Flowering Tree Species

white oak, southern red oak, willow oak, overcup oak, blackjack oak, laurel oak, shagbark hickory, winged elm, black gum, tupelo gum, sweetgum, red maple, flowering dogwood, tulip-poplar, sweet bay, southern magnolia, black cherry, loblolly bay, Amerian holly, yaupon holly, dahoon holly, black titi, azalea

Explore More – Bienville National Forest is named after whom?

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Overview

In the heart of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona lies Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  Humans have inhabited this area for 4,500 years, leaving behind numerous pictographs and the dramatic ruins of Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.  The Navajo arrived in this region around AD1700 with sheep they gained from Spanish colonists which they utilized to weave intricate wool blankets.  Wars with the Utes, Spanish, Mexicans, and then U.S. government eventually led to their forced migration (“The Long Walk”) to Bosque Redondo in New Mexico around 1864.

Highlights

Spider Rock Overlook, White House Ruin, guided vehicle tours, horseback tours

Must-Do Activity

Four years after being forced to the uninhabitable Bosque Redondo, the Navajo were granted the largest reservation in the country and families still inhabit Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “d’shay”) to this day.  The 84,000-acre National Monument is administered cooperatively with the National Park Service (NPS).  However, entrance into the canyon is limited to guided trips and one publicly accessible trail that drops 500 feet to White House Ruin.  Overlooks along the North and South Rim Drives (17 and 18 miles respectively) are free and open year-round, though.  It not only seems like everything runs on a different clock here, but, unlike the rest of Arizona (and now New Mexico), the Navajo Nation observes Daylight Savings Time, so is always an hour later in the summer months (the same time as New Mexico until the fall).

Best Trail

White House Ruin was inhabited AD1060-1275 and is named for the white plaster used to coat the wall in the upper dwelling.  The 2.5-mile roundtrip White House Trail drops down the canyon wall and cuts through a tunnel.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the end of South Rim Drive is 800-foot tall Spider Rock, a great spot to watch the sun set, which is an ideal time to photograph the canyon’s red sandstone walls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Note that there is typically a time difference because Arizona and New Mexico do not observe Daylight Savings Time.

Fees

There is no entrance fee for the North and South Rim Drives, but guided tours into the canyon do charge admission.

Road Conditions

All roads open to the public are paved, but guided tours can be very bumpy since they use the canyon bottom as a road.

Camping

The NPS runs Cottonwood Campground with 96 spaces (and running water in the summer) in a grove of Fremont cottonwood trees that turn yellow in the late autumn.  Guided camping trips in the canyon are also available.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Navajo National Monument (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Explore More – How many millions of years ago did sand dunes turn into Canyon de Chelly’s red sandstone?

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Overview

Off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972 and is only accessible by boat.  While kayaks and private boats are allowed, most visitors arrive by ferry from St. Marys (reservations recommended).  Much of the northern half of the island is designated wilderness with backpacking campsites dispersed near places where freshwater is available for filtration.  Bicycles can be rented once you arrive on the island (they are not allowed on the ferry) and are permitted on the many miles of roads, but not on the trails or beach. 

Highlights

Dungeness Ruins, Ice House Museum, Marsh Boardwalk, First African Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

While it is fun to spend time beachcombing, what really sets Cumberland Island apart are the trails that cut through the maritime forest of twisty live oak trees.  Watch for feral horses, white-tailed deer, armadillos, turkeys, and other birds along the way.  Alligators can also be seen in the freshwater ponds.  Fossilized shark teeth are commonly found on the island, especially on the roads.  Guided tours in vans can be reserved, which can be a good option on rainy days or if you want to make it to the 1890s African-American settlement at the northern end of the island.

Best Trail

The island has more than 50 miles of trails and you can form loops of varying lengths by walking the beach and the inland Parallel Trail.  The trails are very well packed though sandy, and not as hard to walk on as we imagined.  The only deep sand we encountered was on the designated dune crossings between the beach and the inland forest.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dungeness is the name of a mansion built by the Carnegie family that burned down in 1959.  It was constructed atop the ruins of a house of the same name previously owned by Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass, plus the charges for ferry tickets and overnight campsites

Road Conditions

Roads are packed sand and heavily rutted, but unless you own property on the island or take the van tour you will not have to worry about their spine-rattling condition.

Camping

Reservations are required for all overnight stays, including at the privately-owned inn.  Sea Camp offers cold showers and potable water a moderately short walk from the ferry dock.  There are numerous backcountry campsites, but all camping is limited to seven days.

Related Sites

Fort Frederica National Monument (Georgia)

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Related to American Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, and Paso Fino, what is the total population of feral horses living on Cumberland Island?

Rock Creek Park

Overview

We are used to National Monuments and National Historical Parks being listed among the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system, but there are also 11 sites that fall under the category of “Other.”  One of these is Rock Creek Park, a 1,754-acre urban park in northwestern Washington, D.C. established in 1890.  It contains an equestrian center and 13 miles of bridle trails, as well as the Thompson Boat Center, which rents bicycles and a variety of non-motorized boats.  It also has the amenities you would typically associate with any park, like picnic areas, tennis courts, playgrounds, and an amphitheater offering free concerts and plays during the summer.

Highlights

Nature Center and Planetarium, Peirce Mill, Old Stone House, Fort Stevens

Must-Do Activity

Rock Creek Park contains the only planetarium in the entire NPS system, which is at the same location as the Nature Center.  The planetarium offers free astronomy programs and holds monthly stargazing programs between April and November.  The site of Civil War-era Fort Stevens is located east of the main park where interpretive information explains the July 1864 battle that took place there.  It was during a visit to the fort that Abraham Lincoln became the only sitting president to ever come under enemy fire during wartime.

Best Trail

There are 25 miles of trails within Rock Creek Park, plus they connect to parkland in bordering Maryland.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Peirce Mill was originally in operation from the 1820s to 1897, utilizing slave labor (until the Civil War) to run the flour mill, sawmill, distillery, and nursery.  The mill was renovated by the NPS in the 1930s to produce flour during World War II and remains open to visitors seasonally.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, though some are closed on weekends and holidays for non-motorized users.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Theodore Roosevelt Island (District of Columbia)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – Rock Creek also flows through the fee-free National Zoological Park, which is managed by what institution?

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Overview

This site in Deer Lodge, Montana commemorates the late-1800s lifestyle of cattle barons and cowboys.  In 1866, Conrad Kohrs bought this ranch from Johnny Grant and went on to amass a huge cattle herd that grazed across 10-million acres of public land from Colorado to Canada.  Today this remains a working ranch with the sounds and smells of horses, cattle, and poultry.

Highlights

Working cattle ranch, living history demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

There is no admission fee and a free guided tour is offered inside the large ranch house originally built by Johnny Grant in 1862, with a brick addition doubling its size in 1890.  After the tour, you can practice your roping skills on cattle dummies.  Be sure to stop by the blacksmith shop to ask the volunteer there about all the different types of horseshoes on display.  Inside the Buggy Shed you can see the elaborate harnesses once used on the huge Belgian draft horses that still work here at the ranch.

Best Trail

You step back into the 1800s when you walk the quarter-mile trail from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center to the Grant-Kohrs Ranch.  A self-guided walking tour enters 15 buildings with displays on the history of cowboys, barbwire, branding irons, and so much more.  There are a total of 7 miles of walking paths on the property, including a nature trail along Cottonwood Creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you explore, keep your eye out for livestock and cowboys on horseback.  It was calving season for the Herefords when we visited in mid-May.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Deer Lodge, Montana, and Lost Creek state Park offers a primitive campground 25 miles away.

Explore More – What is a “beaver slide hay stacker” and how does it work?