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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?

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?

Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Overview

In colonial Louisiana, the word “Creole” referred to any New World product, from architecture to livestock to human beings (and was not specific to any ethnicity).  South of Natchitoches, Louisiana the Cane River National Heritage Area follows an abandoned meander of the Red River, with two antebellum cotton plantations protected as Cane River Creole National Historical Park.  This National Park Service (NPS) site was authorized in 1994 and continues to be developed; meanwhile it provides an interesting perspective on a unique culture and excellent photographic opportunities.

Highlights

Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, historic buildings, pecan picking

Must-Do Activity

Oakland Plantation dates back to the late 1700s and survived the Civil War intact, but in the wake of Reconstruction tenant farming created a new form of indentured servitude.  Self-guided tours of the site take you through the mule barn, general store, and several cottages.  When we visited in November 2016, park volunteers were only offering one tour per day, but were happy to spend time talking with us inside the old general store.  Slave/tenant quarters are also preserved at Magnolia Plantation downstream, but the main house (which was burned during the Civil War and rebuilt) is privately owned and closed to the public. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Nothing says you are in the South like the crooked branches of live oak trees.  Live oaks drape over the bottle-lined garden at the Oakland Plantation main house.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Kisatchie National Forest has a small campground three miles north of Natchitoches off State Road 117.

Related Sites

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Explore More – Cane River National Heritage Area covers 40,000 acres, but how large is Cane River Creole National Historical Park?

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?

Canaveral National Seashore

Overview

When NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) prevented this portion of Florida coast from development in the 1950s, surely they did not imagine it would soon become one of the last long stretches of wild coastline left on the Atlantic seaboard.  The area north of John F. Kennedy Space Center was set aside as Canaveral National Seashore (in 1975) and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in 1963).

Highlights

Eldora State House, shell mounds, wildlife, fishing, kayaking, beaches

Must-Do Activity

About 310 avian species have been spotted in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than birds, we were excited to see our first living armadillo and manatee outside of a zoo.  Despite its unappealing name, Mosquito Lagoon is a nice spot for fishing and paddling.  We hope someday to return to witness a rocket launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Best Trail

Human activity in Canaveral National Seashore is evident in Timucuan shell mounds that date back thousands of years, with a separate trail to Eldora State House preserving more recent history.  At the southern end of the park in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you will find Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, as well as Cruickshank Trail that leads to an observation tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park ranger told us the most likely place to see a West Indian manatee was at the boat launch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida just north of the park boundary.  There were also dolphins, great blue herons, anhingas, great egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, and royal terns.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle day use or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive and some boat launches are not.  Unlike at other National Seashores, there is no driving on the beach allowed, but you can bicycle or walk to remote Klondike Beach.

Camping

Inside the park boundaries there are no campgrounds, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

Related Sites

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Explore More – What did engineers build in the 1950s to limit the breeding area for saltmarsh mosquitoes?