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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Morristown National Historical Park

Overview

Not as famous as Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania, Morristown was the winter camp for the Continental Army during the winter of 1776-77, following the successful Christmas surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey.  General George Washington again chose this site for his 10,000 troops during the winter of 1779-80, considered by historians as the harshest weather of the 18th century.  Morristown was established as the nation’s first National Historical Park in 1933.

Highlights

Ford Mansion, films, Wick House, replica huts at Jockey Ridge

Must-Do Activity

In the town of Morristown, the Georgian-style Ford Mansion served as George and Martha Washington’s home during the winter of 1779-80.  Tours inside the house start at the museum behind it, which also has exhibits and a film.  Down the road, there are no remains of the earthworks built in 1777 at Fort Nonsense, but interpretive panels at the site explain its strategic position and how it later got its name. 

Best Trail

A short trail leads from a parking area up a small hill to replicas of soldiers’ huts at Jockey Ridge.  There are a total of 27 miles of trails in this section of the park that are also open to horseback riding and cross-country skiing.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Wick House at Jockey Hollow has been restored to its 1750 appearance.  It served as the quarters for Major General Arthur St. Clair during the winter of 1779-80.  Costumed interpreters are sometimes on hand to take visitors inside the farmhouse.

Peak Season

Summer, though winter is more authentic to the American Revolution.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved and parking is free

Camping

Allamachy Mountain State Park is about 20 miles northwest of Morristown, New Jersey.

Related Sites

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – Morristown National Historical Park is part of which National Heritage Area and located along which National Historic Trail?

Boston National Historical Park

Overview

Boston National Historical Park is famous for the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that leads through historic downtown Boston, Massachusetts.  Tourists should not try to drive into the city because parking is difficult and the public transportation system is so good.  We recommend that you hire a guide or bring along your own information because almost nothing along the route has outdoor interpretive signs.

Highlights

Faneuil Hall, Charlestown Navy Yard, Bunker Hill Memorial, burying grounds, Boston Common

Must-Do Activity

One of our favorite misnomers in American history is that the Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill north of Boston.  This first major skirmish took place shortly after the Revolutionary War kicked off in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1775 and is well-known for the Patriot commander that told his men not to “fire ’til you see the whites of their eyes.”  The 221-foot obelisk built to memorialize this fight (which the Patriots lost) was started in 1825 but not completed until 1843.  The National Park Service does not charge to climb the 294 stairs to its peak for great views of the area. 

Best Trail

The famous 2.5-mile long Freedom Trail through downtown Boston, Massachusetts is a walking path marked by a line painted on the sidewalk.  Of the many historic places you will pass along the route, some of the free ones include the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Faneuil Hall known as the “Cradle of Liberty” (and now a National Park Service visitor center), the site of the first public school in America established in 1635, several burying grounds, and the Old Corner Bookstore that has been turned into a restaurant.  You can also pay to enter the Old State House and Paul Revere House, among other sites.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you keep walking the Freedom Trail north you cross the Charlestown Bridge to the Charlestown Navy Yard where you can walk aboard the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and learn about it from active-duty U.S. Navy servicemen and women.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at specific buildings like the Old State House and Paul Revere House.

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but traffic is bad and parking is expensive.  It is best to use public transportation to get into the city and then walk.

Camping

There are camping opportunities (reservations required) in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, which are accessible by ferry from the city.

Related Sites

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Boston African American National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Explore More – The live oak wood used to build the USS Constitution came from what island, now managed by the National Park Service?

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

Overview

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area is co-managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service.  The NPS is in charge of Whiskeytown Lake, a reservoir west of Interstate 5, about 230 miles north of San Francisco, California.  Camping, hiking, gold panning, fishing, boating, and swimming are popular activities, but watch out for poison-oak.

Highlights

Waterfall Challenge, Camden House, gold panning, lake recreation opportunities

Must-Do Activity

Pick up an official Waterfall Challenge Passport at the NPS visitor center along with information on the four waterfall hiking trails.  Tower House Historic District includes the Camden House built in 1852 by a Gold Rush prospector, with seasonal tours offered by the NPS (it was temporarily closed in 2019 after the Carr Fire).  You can even pan for gold (with a $1 permit).

Best Trail

Whiskeytown Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Brandy Creek Falls, and Crystal Creek Falls are accessible by hiking a total of 11 miles, but it may take longer depending on your choice of trails and road closures.  The trails are steep and poorly marked in some places.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Whiskeytown Falls is 220 feet tall and is accessible on a 3.4-mile roundtrip trail, but we thought the most photogenic waterfall was Crystal Creek Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Highway 299 on the north side Whiskeytown Lake is paved and accesses Oak Bottom Campground.  Some of the gravel access roads are rough, but passable even with passenger vehicles.

Camping

There are eight campgrounds around the lake, some tent-only, but RVs are allowed at Oak Bottom and Brandy Creek Campgrounds.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

Explore More – In what year was the Central Valley Project begun that years later formed the 3,200-acre Whiskeytown Lake?

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

Overview

The house at 144 Constitution Avenue NE in Washington, D.C. has an interesting history.  First constructed by the Sewall family in 1799 near the new U.S. Capitol building, it was burned by British troops during the War of 1812.  After being renovated by Vermont Senator Porter H. Dale in the 1920s, it was purchased by Alva Vanderbilt Belmont as a replacement headquarters for the National Woman’s Party (NWP).  In 1972, it was named the Sewall-Belmont National Historic Site, affiliated with the National Park Service (NPS), who took over full control when it was established as a National Monument in 2016. 

Highlights

Historic artifacts, sculptures, tours

Must-Do Activity

Free tours are given at specific times (see Hours below) by the NPS, but otherwise visitors can read the museum displays on both floors of the house.  The name Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument refers to the aforementioned Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and Alice Paul, a militant suffragette who was arrested during World War I for picketing outside the White House.  The protesters were attacked by men on the street, vilified in the newspapers, and abused in prison where they were force-fed during hunger strikes.  In August 1920, these brave women achieved vindication with the passing of the 19th Amendment allowing all women the right to vote in the U.S.A.

Best Trail

The Sewell House has a placard outside as part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.  In 1814, the British believed there were snipers posted inside the house and burned it down, one of the few private residences destroyed during their march through Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A statue of Joan of Arc greets visitors in the front hallway of the house.  Our tour guide said that the statue is attached to the house’s foundation and is completely immovable. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There is no designated parking lot, so you have to find street parking or take the Metro.

Camping

None

Explore More – In August 1920, which state became the 36th to ratify the 19th Amendment, officially adding it to the U.S. Constitution?