Tag Archives: lake

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?

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area

Overview

Stretching nearly one mile (5,223 feet) in length, the Grand Coulee Dam was the first constructed across the mighty Columbia River between 1933 and 1942.  In case you are wondering what a “coulee” is, that is a regional name for a canyon, many of which were carved by the walls of water that scoured this region after Lake Missoula burst through its ice dams periodically 15,000 to 13,000 years ago.  The reservoir created by the dam was named for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is why the National Park Service (NPS) manages it as Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center, Fort Spokane, St. Paul’s Mission, watersports

Must-Do Activity

The Bureau of Reclamation manages the museum at Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center and a free laser light show is projected on the mile-long dam during the summer months.  Near a major river confluence, Fort Spokane was established in 1880 and now has a one-mile trail explaining its diverse history.  The reservoir submerged the salmon fishing grounds at Kettle Falls that had been used for millennia.  Native Americans still inhabit this region today, as the lake creates a border between the Colville and Spokane Indian Reservations.  Campgrounds and boat launch sites are located all along the narrow lake’s 129-mile length, although some may close due to changing reservoir levels.

Best Trail

A quarter-mile trail with interpretive signs is located at St. Paul’s Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington state.  Here you will learn about (now submerged) Kettle Falls and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s historic impact on the region.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At the time, the Grand Coulee Dam became the largest masonry structure ever built, breaking a record held for 4,700 years by the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

The NPS charges a fee at boat launches and you cannot use the America the Beautiful pass.  Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center is free, as are the Keller Ferry and Gifford–Inchelium Ferry that cross the lake.

Road Conditions

There are some unpaved roads, but the designated Scenic Drive follows only paved roads and utilizes two free ferries.

Camping

There are 26 campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis, while sites at a few take reservations.  Boat-in campgrounds and shoreline camping are both free.

Related Sites

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Explore More – During peak construction, how many people were employed at the Grand Coulee Dam?

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses 1.2-million acres surrounding the snaky shoreline of Lake Powell, named for geologist John Wesley Powell who led a mapping expedition down the Colorado River in 1869.  The reservoir was formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, which was built between 1956-63 to store water for the Southwestern U.S. and generate hydroelectricity.  The damming was controversial because it destroyed archaeological sites, submerged scenic canyons, and altered the flow of the Colorado River into Grand Canyon National Park

Highlights

Horseshoe Bend Overlook, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam, Cathedral Wash, Lees Ferry, Hole-in-the-Rock

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) run Carl Hayden Visitor Center in Page, Arizona is a good place to start a visit, where you can purchase tickets for a dam tour.  The meandering lake has about 2,000 miles of shoreline (mostly in Utah) with plenty of coves to explore and spend the night aboard a houseboat (rentals available).  If you do not want to attempt navigation there are many commercial boat trips, including an all-day cruise to Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  If you plan to stay on land, be sure to walk out to Horseshoe Bend Overlook, hike through the high desert landscape, or drive some of the hundreds of miles of dirt roads.

Best Trail

Wiregrass Canyon is located east of Big Water, Utah and the rocky trail passes hoodoos and two natural bridges.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You might want to bring your “selfie stick” to iconic Horseshoe Bend Overlook, a short 0.7-mile one-way hike from the parking area on Highway 89 outside Page, Arizona.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

Parking is now $10 at Horseshoe Bend Overlook (no NPS passes accepted), but many other sites are free. There is a $30 per vehicle entrance fee at some marinas (NPS passes accepted), in addition to charges for the dam tour and guided boat tours.

Road Conditions

This park is famous for its backcountry 4×4 roads (like Hole-in-the-Rock Road) and flash floods, so check with a park ranger before attempting anything unpaved.  A fee is charged to ferry across the lake between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Marina.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds (mostly near marinas), but free primitive camping is allowed along most dirt roads.  A permit is required for overnight camping in the beautiful Coyote Gulch area, which is popular with backpackers.

Related Sites

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Explore More – Lake Powell is well known for its “bath tub ring,” so when did the reservoir last reach its high-water mark?

Top 10 National Seashores

There are exactly 10 National Seashores in the National Park Service (NPS) system, so choosing which ones to put in the Top 10 was not difficult.  However, they are all similar, so ranking them was tricky.  Also, without anything to put in the Honorable Mentions category, we decided to rank the three remaining National Lakeshores (after Indiana Dunes became a National Park in 2019).  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

There was a ton of plastic debris washed up on the beach, though the sea turtles did not seem to mind

9. Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Apollo Beach was too steep to lie down on, but we did see our first manatee in Mosquito Lagoon

8. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Great white sharks might keep swimmers out of the water, but there are some nice hiking trails

7. Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

This roadless area is most easily accessed by ferry from Long Island

Tiff with the lighthouse

6. Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Known for its lighthouses, beachside campgrounds, and good swimming conditions

5. Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

Wild ponies are its most famous residents, but also home to seahorses and other marine animals

4. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Watch for gray whales and elephant seals in the winter along the foggy Pacific coast

3. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

You will need a boat to access these barrier islands, a great place to camp and collect shells

2. Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)           

Take the ferry for a daytrip or an overnight camping experience, and hunt for fossilized shark teeth

…and finally the #1 National Seashore:

1. Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida-Mississippi)

Beautiful white sand beaches and interesting historic forts make this our favorite spot

Top 3 National Lakeshores

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Most of the sand dunes are covered by forest at this spot known for its fishing and canoeing

2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

We will never forget kayaking through the Petit Portal along the cliffs of Lake Superior

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Sea caves carved by Lake Superior’s waves and island campsites are the biggest draw

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

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

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

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

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

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