Tag Archives: mountains

Shenandoah National Park

Overview

At one time Shenandoah National Park was entirely private owned, then in the 1930s the government of Virginia went about “procuring” the land for a grand National Park in the east.  These mountains are renowned for their colorful fall foliage, which peaks in October, when 18% of annual visitors arrive.  If you are looking to avoid traffic in a park only 70 miles from Washington, D.C., we recommend coming in February when almost every park amenity is closed.

Highlights

Skyline Drive, Stony Man, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag Mountain

Must-Do Activity

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to form the backbone of this narrow National Park.  Driving at the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, it takes 3 hours to drive in its entirety if you do not stop once.  But with 75 overlooks and 513 miles of trails to choose from, who would want to do that?  Skyline Drive is paralleled by 101 miles of the famous 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Best Trail

The trailhead for Old Rag Mountain is located east of the park off Highway 231 (not Skyline Drive), but it is the most popular hike.  The challenging route over slick rock faces and narrow corridors provides wonderful views of the ridgeline that comprises Shenandoah National Park.  Due to the number of hikers, it is recommended you complete a 7.1-mile loop by connecting Ridge Trail with Saddle Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Throughout the park there are numerous trails to waterfalls, though some may run dry in the summer.  The shortest hike, at 1.4 miles roundtrip, leads to 70-foot tall Dark Hollow Falls. 

Peak Season

Summer, plus mid-October for fall foliage

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The park’s paved backbone Skyline Drive is occasionally closed after major snowstorms.  Located at Mile 32 (measured from Port Royal, Virginia in the north), the 670-foot long Mary’s Rock Tunnel allows a maximum vehicle height of 12 feet, 8 inches.

Camping

There are four seasonal campgrounds located along Skyline Drive and backpacking is allowed with a free permit.  West of the Shenandoah River Valley, George Washington National Forest also provides camping opportunities.

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

Explore More – What percentage of the 199,218 acres in Shenandoah National Park is designated Wilderness?

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Castle Mountains National Monument

Overview

Designated in February 2016, this small monument borders Nevada and is surrounded by the much larger Mojave National Preserve on its other three sides.  Its highest point is Hart Peak (5,543 feet), named for James Hart who discovered gold here in 1907 and founded a boomtown that reached 1,500 residents. 

Highlights

Hart Peak (5,543 feet), Hart Mine ghost town, view of Castle Peaks

Must-Do Activity

This new National Monument is undeveloped with no trails, no visitor center, and little signage.  Drive or walk its network of dirt roads to get a feel for the Mojave Desert.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Joshua trees are always photogenic, especially when the jagged Castle Peaks are in the background (though they are outside the monument’s northern boundary within Mojave National Preserve).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

There are visitor centers in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve that have hours posted here:

https://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Walking Box Ranch Road is a groomed dirt road passable to any vehicle from Highway 164 west of Searchlight, Nevada.  Access roads from Mojave National Preserve require high-clearance.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed within the monument.  Hole-in-the-Wall Campground within Mojave National Preserve is accessible by paved road from Interstate 40.

Explore More – Piute Spring is charged by the aquifer within Castle Mountains National Monument; when researchers tested it, how long ago did its water fall as precipitation?

Mount Rainier National Park

Overview

Only 3 hours from Seattle, 14,410-foot tall Mount Rainier dominates the skyline in all directions.  It spends many days cloaked in clouds, so your best view might be out a tiny airplane window before landing at Sea-Tac Airport.  It is an active volcano, uncomfortably close to a population of millions, but it provides recreational opportunities year round.  The park truly contains the wonderland for which its 93-mile circumnavigating trail is named.

Highlights

Paradise, Sunrise, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, Wonderland Trail

Must-Do Activity

Despite receiving an average of 680 inches of snow annually, the road to Paradise is open all year.  Even in July, you should pack your snowshoes to follow the 5.5 mile Skyline Loop or the 1.2 mile long Nisqually Vista Trail.  This is the jumping off point for most mountaineers attempting to summit the volcano.

Best Trail

A really fun (or scary) swinging footbridge grants access to the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail (1.2 miles roundtrip), where giant Douglas-fir trees tower to more than 300 feet in height.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Reflection Lake is right off the main park road east of the Paradise turnoff.  When there is no wind, it offers a stunning mirror view of Mount Rainier.

Peak Season

Summer, but expect heavy snowpack through July and at least 9 months a year.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads to Paradise and Sunrise are paved, though the latter is closed October to July, as is the dirt road that accesses Mowich Lake.  The Carbon River Road in the northwest corner was washed out in 2006, but is still walkable for 5 miles one-way to access Ipsut Creek Campground.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds that accept reservations, but White River Campground near Sunrise has 112 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. 


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

Explore More – How many different glaciers cling to the sides of the Mount Rainier volcano?

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.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Overview

Originally managed as part of Yosemite National Park, this monument was established in 1911 to protect it from demolition by dam builders.  It is only 798 acres, so it can easily feel crowded; therefore we recommend getting an early or late start when the shuttles from Mammoth Lakes, California are not running.

Highlights

Devils Postpile, Rainbow Falls, Minaret Falls

Must-Do Activity

Devils Postpile National Monument is named for a 60-foot tall wall of columnar basalt formed by a volcanic eruption that occurred less than 100,000 years ago.  These interesting columns are one to three feet in diameter and more than half are hexagonal in shape. 

Best Trail

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail runs through the monument, but just outside its boundaries in Inyo National Forest is a 3-mile round trip hike to pretty Minaret Falls.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A short 1.3-mile roundtrip hike takes you to 101-foot-high Rainbow Falls, which usually lives up to its name and is one of the most stunning waterfalls we have ever seen. 

Peak Season

Due to high snowfall in the Eastern Sierra, it is generally only open from June through October. 

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass, but most visitors have to pay $8 per person for a shuttle bus to enter the monument.

Road Conditions

You are only allowed to drive your own vehicle down the narrow access road if you are staying at Reds Meadow Resort or the Inyo National Forest campground.  Otherwise, you must pay to take a shuttle from Mammoth Lakes, California. 

Camping

A 21-site campground is located near the National Monument and many others outside Mammoth Lakes, California in Inyo National Forest, where dispersed camping is also allowed in some places.

Explore More – How did glaciers help expose the Devils Postpile formation 10,000 years ago?

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Overview

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a red rock badlands full of hoodoos situated at the edge of the Markagunt Plateau and only open during the summer due to its elevation above 10,000 feet.  Its colorful limestone amphitheater is like a miniature Bryce Canyon National Park without all the interior trails.

Highlights

Chessman Ridge Overlook, Point Supreme, Ramparts Trail, Spectra Point

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center is open late May through October.  From there the short trail to Point Supreme and the longer Ramparts Trail lead to stunning overlooks of the amphitheater.  Also stop at Sunset View, Chessman Ridge Overlook, and North View on Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive.

Best Trail

At 10,000 feet in elevation this is no place to try anything too strenuous.  Walk the flat one-mile Ramparts Trail to Spectra Point and stop at the many great overlooks along the way while enjoying the riotous summer wildflowers and gnarly bristlecone pine trees (some believed to be more than 1,600 years old).

Instagram-worthy Photo

On our visit in July, we saw columbine, blue bells, larkspur, Indian paintbrush, elkweed, lupine, wild rose, fireweed, and cow parsnip; many of the same species that grow along the coast of Alaska. 

Peak Season

Summer, though snowmobilers and cross-country skiers can access the park during the winter.

Hours

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

Fees

$7 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The paved Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive remains open until snow closes it usually by November.

Camping

The park contains Point Supreme Campground with 30 spaces and running water from June through September.  The surrounding Dixie National Forest also offers campgrounds and free dispersed camping.

Explore More – What is the name of the trail outside the monument’s boundaries that drops 2,500 to the bottom of the amphitheater?