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Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?

Point Reyes National Seashore

Overview

North of San Francisco, California, Point Reyes National Seashore is the only park so designated on the Pacific Coast of the U.S.  Be prepared to get wet as this piece of land located on the San Andreas Fault is frequently enveloped by a fog belt year round.  It might not be the best spot to sunbathe on the beach, but this unique seashore is a great place to watch wildlife.

Highlights

Point Reyes Lighthouse, beaches, Arch Rock, Historic Pierce Point Ranch, Tomales Bay

Must-Do Activity

The main attraction is the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where you can try to spot sea lions and gray whales on their winter migration.  It is 300 steps down to the historic lighthouse, then you have to turn around and climb back up.  Nearby Drakes Beach is off limits in the winter months when elephant seals gather there and you can watch (and listen to) them from an overlook.  The park is popular with road and mountain bikers, and well-protected Tomales Bay attracts kayakers.

Best Trail

An extensive trail system with backcountry campsites (including two near the beach) is best accessed from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.  Plus, you can always walk the 11-mile long Point Reyes Beach.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park has a reintroduced herd of Tule elk near the Historic Pierce Point Ranch on Tomales Point.  If you visit in January, you might find a bull was waiting for his other antler to drop.

Peak Season

Summer, though the weather is pretty much the same year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except a few short ones that access trailheads.

Camping

There is no campground in Point Reyes National Seashore, but there are backcountry campsites that area available with a permit (reservations available).

Related Sites

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)

Olympic National Park (Washington)

Explore More – How far did the entire Point Reyes Peninsula permanently shift during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake?

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Overview

In Hopewell, Pennsylvania, the proximity of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal led to this iron furnace’s success from 1771 to 1883.  It also needed water from French Creek to run the air blast machinery allowing the furnace to reach smelting temperature.  During the American Revolution, it produced cannon, shot, and shells for the Continental Navy.  The 848-acre National Historic Site was authorized in 1938, making it one of the oldest in the nation.

Highlights

Anthracite furnace, film, cast house, tenant houses, ironmaster’s mansion, Bethesda Church

Must-Do Activity

Start with the short film at the visitor center, then take the self-guided walk through the “iron plantation.”  Though the cold-blast charcoal process became outdated by 1883, the original furnace is still used each summer to produce aluminum products.  Other costumed interpreters depict village life from late June to Labor Day.  In September and October, visitors can pick 30 varieties of apples in the orchards for a small fee, similar to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Best Trail

The site’s 12 miles of forested trails also connect into the neighboring French Creek State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the cast house, moulders cast molten iron into stove plates, cannonballs, and other products.

Peak Season

Summer and apple picking season

Hours

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

Fees

None, but “you pick” apples cost $1 per pound

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

French Creek State Park has more than 200 campsites with access to running water and showers.

Related Sites

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Valley Forge National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – How high of a temperature could the Hopewell Furnace reach when smelting?

Voyageurs National Park

Overview

Water dominates Voyageurs National Park on the border of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.  So much so that many of the land formations were never given names by the French fur traders (or “voyageurs”) that navigated these waters beginning in the late-1700s.  It was a hard life, paddling large birch bark canoes full of supplies up to sixteen hours per day.  Today the park is famous for its manmade destinations, including Kettle Falls Hotel, Hoist Bay Resort, and the unique sculptures at Ellsworth Rock Gardens. 

Highlights

Kettle Falls, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Hoist Bay Resort, Kab-Ash Trail

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to get out on the water via a ranger-led tour or take your own boat to one of the shoreline campsites inaccessible by car (permit required).  Reservations can be made for the free ranger-guided North Canoe Voyage that lets passengers paddle a 26-foot canoe, just like the “voyageurs” of old.  For more information, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Best Trail

There are several short trails that lead from the visitor centers at Rainy Lake and Ash River, in addition to the 28-mile long Kab-Ash Trail that allows backpacking. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

On Namakan Lake, you can explore the remains of Hoist Bay Resort, which was a logging camp before it became a vacation destination.  It feels haunted in the evening, exploring the empty ruins while listening to the eerie calls of common loons.

Peak Season

Summer, but be prepared for bugs.

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for camping frees

Road Conditions

The major access roads to NPS visitor centers are paved, plus in the winter there is a designated 7-mile ice road over Rainy Lake.

Camping

There are 214 boat-in campsites available first-come, first-served with a NPS permit (reservations available).  There are several campgrounds located on the mainland just outside the park boundaries.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

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

Explore More – When did the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company operate at Hoist Bay on Namakan Lake?

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Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Overview

Salem, Massachusetts may be best known for its “witch trials” of 1692 (during which nobody was burned to death, but about a dozen people were hanged in the region).  The town was also a significant trading port known for its shipbuilding.  During the American Revolution, Salem never fell to the enemy and its 158 privateers captured 445 English ships.  Deep water harbors like Boston later took away from Salem’s prominence, helping preserve its architecture until it was named the nation’s first National Historic Site in 1938.

Highlights

Derby Wharf lighthouse, Friendship of Salem, Custom House

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located downtown in the old Salem Armory and offers films and exhibits (including one covering the “witch trials” of 1692).  Most of its 14 protected structures are located a short walk toward the waterfront near Derby Wharf.  It is free to come aboard the Friendship of Salem, a full-scale replica of a 1797 merchant ship.  You can learn all sorts of information from the interpreters on the ship and perhaps weave some of your own rope to take with you as a souvenir.

Best Trail

The Derby Wharf Trail follows a paved breakwater out to a small lighthouse that dates to 1871.  This truly is a walking park with additional points of interest at the Salem Witch Museum, House of the Seven Gables, and Peabody Essex Museum (all of which charge admission).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 1819 Custom House is where novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne worked between 1846-48.  The original rooftop eagle carved in 1826 is housed inside, but a replica stands in its place.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but only street parking is available.

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest has a large campground located approximately 10 miles northwest of Salem, Massachusetts.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – Who was the shipping merchant who became one of America’s first millionaires and whose house is now part of Salem Maritime National Historic Site?