Tag Archives: kayaking

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?

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.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Overview

Gustavus, Alaska (population 400) is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and can be accessed by air or ferry from Juneau.  Some large cruise ships include the bay on their Inside Passage itinerary, but to get closer and really hear the thunder of cracking Margerie Glacier it is better to take a daytrip aboard a smaller catamaran from the docks at Glacier Bay Lodge.  Guided multi-day kayaking trips are one way to have a wild experience more similar to John Muir’s 1879 exploration detailed in his book Travels in Alaska.  Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Sitakaday Narrows, Bartlett River Trail, Margerie Glacier, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Vacation packages including boat tickets, meals, and a private cabin at the lodge are reasonably priced through the National Park Service (NPS) concessionaire.  Shortly after departing on your all-day boat tour you will see humpback whales in the Sitakaday Narrows, then up the bay are Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and a variety of seabirds.  By scanning the cliffs you might also spot mountain goats and brown bears.  The boat turns around at Margerie Glacier, a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Best Trail

On the days you are not on the boat, there are several trails around Glacier Bay Lodge or you can explore the shoreline at low tide to see an assortment of marine life. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Lamplugh Glacier is not as active as Margerie Glacier, but may be more photogenic, which is why we chose to depict it in our logo for this National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for the park, but this is not a cheap place to visit.

Road Conditions

There are no roads to Gustavus, Alaska, which is only accessible by airplane or boat.  The NPS always sends a bus from Glacier Bay Lodge to pick up arrivals at the airport and ferry terminal.

Camping

There is a free NPS campground near Glacier Bay Lodge if you bring your own supplies. 

Related Sites

Sitka National Historical Park (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

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

Explore More – Glacier Bay was named a National Monument in 1925 and was expanded to become the largest NPS site (at the time) in 1939, but when was it finally designated a National Park?

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Niobrara National Scenic River

Overview

When most folks think of Nebraska they imagine endless dusty prairie scenes of the Oregon Trail, yet between the wide Platte and Missouri Rivers also runs the 535-mile long Niobrara River.  The Niobrara cuts across the 100th Meridian of Longitude that roughly divides in half the continental U.S.  This special area is home to species representative of the eastern forests, Rocky Mountains, boreal forests, and prairies; consequently it has high biodiversity.  The motto on the National Park Service (NPS) signs is “Public Waters, Private Land.”

Highlights

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Falls Trail, Smith Falls State Park, canoeing, tubing

Must-Do Activity

The 76-mile section of river designated the Niobrara National Scenic River in 1991 begins within Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where the first 4.8 miles are closed to the public.  The 22-mile section starting from Cornell Bridge is the most popular portion for canoers, tubers, and people who float downstream in round metal cattle troughs.  The Niobrara River has a few big Class IV rapids, but nothing more than Class II through the first 27 miles.  We floated to the portage at dangerous Rocky Ford Rapid at high water in May and encountered only Class I rapids and a few strainers along the shorelines.

Best Trail

Pull off the river around Mile 15 in Smith Falls State Park to take the short boardwalk to a 63-foot tall waterfall.  The waterfalls along these cliffs are interesting because instead of pouring off a cut bank they develop a prominent ledge that grows as the limestone is dissolved and redeposited (like a cave formation).  You can also drive to the state park and walk over the Niobrara River on the Verdigre Bridge, originally built in 1910 and relocated here in 1996.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not miss the opportunity to drive the dirt road through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to see the bison herd, especially in May when the bison calves are born.  The refuge also contains the short Fort Falls Trail, which forms a loop with views of a 45-foot tall waterfall.

Peak Season

Summer, though water levels drop after June.

Hours

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

Fees

None for the river, but there is a $1 per person launch fee in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and entry/camping fees at Smith Falls State Park.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles.

Camping

Camping options are limited since most of the river banks are privately owned, though Smith Falls State Park offers a campground ($6/person/night) and other private campsites are marked on river maps.

Related Sites

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Explore More – Named for a town in Nebraska, the Valentine Formation holds what types of fossils?