Tag Archives: kayaking

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Overview

Since 1972, about 255 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers have been protected along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  It is a popular route for paddlers and tube floaters, in addition to providing invaluable habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, great blue herons, and 40 species of native mussels.  There are a few dams along the rivers and regulations vary by who manages different sections, so it is important to know the rules before you launch your boat.

Highlights

Trego Nature Trail, Sandrock Cliffs, Interstate State Parks

Must-Do Activity

There is a long scenic byway that follows the St. Croix River north from its confluence with the Mississippi River (south of Minneapolis) near the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the seasonal Namekegon River Visitor Center on a stretch of water that is good for floating.  If you do not have a boat, just down the road try the 2.8-mile roundtrip Trego Nature Trail that follows the Namekegon River through a forest of white pine, bigtooth aspen, and paper birch trees.

Best Trail

Wisconsin Interstate State Park is located on the St. Croix River and is the western terminus for the partially completed 1,200-mile long Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin Interstate State Parks are great places to learn about potholes (up to 15-foot deep bowls carved into solid rock) formed by boulders caught in whirlpools during glacial melting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved, but some (like the side road to Trego Nature Trail) are good gravel.

Camping

Developed campgrounds can be found in the numerous state parks and state forests along the rivers.  Only designated riverside campsites can be used by those paddling (except in the Stillwater Islands area), but no reservations are accepted.

Related Sites

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Explore More – A major proponent of creating this park, Senator Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin and helped pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as founding what annual holiday in 1970?

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is an underappreciated gem in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  It has gorgeous scenery, a winding reservoir, and abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep and wild horses.  The 525-foot tall Yellowtail Dam was completed in 1968, creating a 71-mile long reservoir, the majority of which is in narrow Bighorn Canyon where cliffs soar up to 2,000 feet above the water.

Highlights

Devil Canyon Overlook, Hillsboro Dude Ranch, Horseshoe Bend, Yellowtail Dam

Must-Do Activity

No road connects the north and south portion of the park, making for a long drive between the NPS visitor center in Lovell, Wyoming and the one at the Yellowtail Dam in Montana.  Thus, it is best to choose either one side or the other and explore the canyon by boat.  Devil Canyon Overlook and most of the 27 miles of hiking trails are in the southern section.  This is also where the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range enters into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  In the summer there are lifeguards at the designated swimming areas at Horseshoe Bend and Ok-A-Beh.

Best Trail

The southern portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has trails to historic sites like Hillsboro Dude Ranch and several tipi rings found along Bad Pass Trail, a route which has seen over 10,000 years of human use.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to get out on the water, the highlight of the park is Devil Canyon Overlook where the cliffs drop over 1,000 feet straight down to the lake.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Almost every road is paved, but they are narrow and winding so may not be advisable for very long RVs.

Camping

There are drive-in campgrounds (fee) in both states, as well as free boat-in campgrounds on the Montana side.  Backcountry camping is allowed below the highwater mark of Bighorn Lake.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Explore More – The Yellowtail Dam is named after whom?

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?

Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve

Overview

When the U.S. Virgin Islands chose a National Park Service (NPS) site for their quarter (see below) in the America the Beautiful coin collection they selected this undeveloped park, which we would rank worst of the five NPS units there.  Established in 1992, it contains the only place in the United States where Christopher Columbus’s men set foot 500 years ago (although that is now underwater).  The region is still recovering after Hurricanes Irma and Maria did extensive damage in 2017, including the removal of the NPS contact station here.

Highlights

Mangroves, bioluminescent bay

Must-Do Activity

On St. Croix Island, the NPS has exhibits about this park at Christiansted National Historic Site, including descriptions of the western hemisphere’s first violent resistance by natives to European encroachment in 1493.  The park is completely undeveloped, including the archaeological sites.  The must-do activity is a kayaking trip after dark to Mangrove Lagoon to see the bioluminescent organisms there.  Plan your trip around a new moon when the darkness helps them show up better.  Do not bother bringing your waterproof camera, since it is nearly impossible to capture on film.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The long roots of mangroves help protect the shore from storm damage and provide a safe hiding place for small fish.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for guided tours of the bioluminescent bay

Road Conditions

Access roads paved

Camping

There is no official campground, but locals have semi-permanent camps set up on the beach within Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve and other parts of the island.  We found the best deals on St. Croix Island were available through Airbnb.

Related Sites

Buck Island Reef National Monument (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Explore More – This park contains the only Taino ballcourt in the Caribbean built before Columbus’s arrival; when was it discovered?

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Assateague Island National Seashore

Overview

Assateague Island National Seashore was authorized in 1963, twenty years after neighboring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect migratory birds, like the greater snow goose.  In combination with Assateague State Park they protect a 37-mile stretch of undeveloped shoreline that crosses the border of Maryland and Virginia (and is very close to Delaware).  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the National Seashore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge, but there is also an NPS visitor center at the refuge.

Highlights

Museum, film, Assateague Lighthouse, wildlife, kayaking, swimming, beachcombing

Must-Do Activity

Assateague Island’s most renowned residents are its wild ponies, purported to have swum ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon.  Every year since the 1700s, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company has herded the ponies that live on Assateague Island for an auction to raise funds for firefighting.  This annual event was chronicled in the classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (which made our Top 10 NPS Novels list).  The ponies can often spotted by hikers on the Woodland Trail, a three-mile loop hike.  Nearby there is also a free NASA visitor center at Wallops Flight Facility where they launch rockets.

Best Trail

We mentioned the Woodland Trail above, but this park is all about walking the beach, especially the 10 miles of wild beach only accessible by foot within Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The first Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1833, while the structure seen today was completed in 1867.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but with a permit you can drive 13 miles of beach on the Maryland side and five miles on the Virginia side.  It takes about 1.2 hours to drive the highways between the north and south bridges to Assateague Island.

Camping

On the Maryland side, the NPS operates two campgrounds with cold showers, but the one in Assateague State Park offers hot showers.  Two oceanside backpacking camps and four bayside kayak-in camps are also available by permit.

Related Sites

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Not just a safe haven for wild ponies, where in the National Seashore do seahorses anchor to underwater grasses?