Tag Archives: island

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Overview

The Outer Banks of North Carolina have sparked the imaginations of travelers ever since British colonists landed here in 1585.  If you are seeking undeveloped beaches that have changed little over the centuries then this is the place to go.  The 70 miles of barrier islands protected as Cape Hatteras National Seashore are interrupted only by small seaside villages and one long section by Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Bodie Island and Hatteras Island are connected by bridges, but Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry.

Highlights

1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke Island Campground, beaches

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located at iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse where you can learn about shipwrecks, pirates, and the monumental effort to move the 208-foot tall brick structure in 1999.  Further down Highway 12, pick up a free ferry to Ocracoke Island, a renowned vacation destination.  Several campgrounds are found along the seashore, including one on Ocracoke.  Since this remote strip of sand is not easy to get to, you will want to spend at least a night or two.

Best Trail

Walking the beach and collecting seashells is the most popular diversion, but there are also the Hammock Hills Nature Trail on Ocracoke Island and Buxton Woods Nature Trail on Hatteras Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, dating back to 1823, but it is not open to enter inside.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except a fee is charged to climb Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved and there are designated access points to drive on the beach.

Camping

There are four NPS campgrounds and they all take reservations.

Related Sites

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Wright Brothers National Memorial (North Carolina)

Explore More – The Outer Banks are known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” so how many shipwrecks have been recorded in this area?

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – What are the four species of sea turtles that nest on the park’s beaches?

Pu‘ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Overview

Located on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Pu‘ukoholā Heiau translates as “temple on the hill of the whale.”  Under the rule of Kamehameha I, the heiau was built in 1790-91 after a prophet told his aunt he needed to appease the family war god.  In 1810, after years of warfare, Kamehameha I finally became the first king of the unified Hawaiian Islands.  Following his death nine years later, his son abolished the kapu system of beliefs and the heiau fell into ruin.  This 86-acre site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972.

Highlights

Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, Mailekini Heiau, John Young’s Homestead

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the NPS visitor center and check out the metal artwork that tells the story of the demi-god Maui.  Then walk the interpretive trail for views of several heiau, including the submerged Hale o Kapuni Heiau dedicated to the shark gods.  You can also park across Highway 270 and walk to the site of John Young’s homestead.  Young was a British sailor stranded on Hawai‘i in 1790 who became a trusted military advisor of Kamehameha I. 

Best Trail

A short portion of the 175-mile long Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail runs through this site, though at present most of the trail is not publicly accessible.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Pu‘ukoholā Heiau measures 224 by 100 feet with 20-foot high walls and was constructed without mortar by stacking volcanic rocks.  The heiau are closed to the public, but can be photographed from downhill.

Peak Season

Year round, but each August there are ceremonies held at the heiau.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Samuel Spencer County Park offers camping nearby, but reservations are required.

Related Sites

Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Explore More – The kikiako‘i (or stone leaning post) was at least six feet tall and used by chiefs to observe sharks feeding at Hale o Kapuni Heiau; when was it accidentally broken?

Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial

Overview

As a strict adherent to his own personal philosophy promoting “the strenuous life,” President Theodore Roosevelt regularly swam in the Potomac River, even in the middle of winter.  As a president with a proud record of conservation (especially in creating National Monuments), it is meaningful that his memorial lies on an 80-acre island with 2.5 miles of gravel trails leading through its beautiful and diverse deciduous forest. 

Highlights

Upland Trail, Swamp Trail, statue

Must-Do Activity

Fittingly, Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial is only accessible via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Dedicated in 1967, a 17-foot statue of the man is surrounded by several fountains and four monoliths carved with his words.  The foundation of a brick mansion owned by the Mason family in the 1800s can be seen from the trails on the island.

Best Trail

Teddy would surely appreciate that the island is situated along the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile pathway that follows the western bank of the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Teddy Roosevelt was known as a flamboyant orator, which is even captured in his silent statue.  In 1912, he famously gave an 84-minute campaign speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The parking lot is only accessible from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is itself a unit of the National Park Service (NPS) system.

Camping

None

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Maryland-Virginia)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (District of Columbia)

Rock Creek Park (District of Columbia)

Explore More – When did the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchase the island?