Tag Archives: National Historic Trail

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Overview

This Santa Fe Trail fort was only active from 1860 to 1878, but after becoming private property it continued to function as a working ranch which explains why it is in such good shape today.  Costumed re-enactors are really what make this National Park Service (NPS) site special, though, from the blacksmith to the schoolteacher to the commissar to the officers’ wives.  They love to share stories of this extraordinary place.  Surrounded by open fields, it is easy to feel like you are 150 years in the past while touring the grounds.

Highlights

Museum, film, commissary, officers’ quarters, barracks, reconstructed blockhouse

Must-Do Activity

As we walked across the bridge over the Pawnee River towards Fort Larned on a foggy Memorial Day morning, we watched a horse-drawn carriage heading that way, too.  Much to our surprise, the driver (a volunteer) stopped to ask if we would like to hop in for a ride.  Passing through the fog, it was like being carried back in time.  To learn more history, head to the Santa Fe Trail Center in the town of Larned, Kansas.

Best Trail

The parking area is a short walk from the fort, then a self-guided trail (brochure available at the NPS visitor center) leads to stops around the 718-acre site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Two soldier re-enactors looked ghostly in the glass while watching the blacksmith work his magic.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The access road to the main site is paved, but to visit the Santa Fe Trail Ruts Area requires driving an unpaved county road.

Camping

There is a private campground in Larned, Kansas, plus Kansas has a good State Parks system.

Related Sites

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Union National Monument (New Mexico)

Explore More – For whom is Fort Larned named?

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?

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?

Whitman Mission National Historic Site

Overview

While there was some limited European settlement on the west coast prior to her journey, the popularization of the Oregon Trail for families can be traced to publication of the letters of Narcissa Whitman after her journey in 1836.  While in the Black Hills she wrote, “It is astonishing how well we get along with our wagons where there are no roads.  I think I may say it is easier traveling here than on any turnpike in the States.”  Narcissa came with her doctor husband and other Protestants to establish missions among the American Indians.  The Whitmans did much to open the west to emigrant families and you can visit their graves at this 138-acre National Park Service (NPS) site in Walla Walla, Washington.

Highlights

Museum, film, millpond, Whitman Memorial, Oregon National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Whitmans set up near Waiilatpu, which translates to “place of the people of the rye grass.”  The main Oregon Trail would eventually detour south of their mission, but the couple would still care for stragglers, even adopting 10 children.  Following a devastating 1847 measles epidemic they and eleven others were killed by grieving Cayuse families who blamed the doctor for poisoning them.  News of the November 29 attack and subsequent retaliations spurred Congress to create the Oregon Territory within the year. 

Best Trail

A self-guided interpretive trail leads up to an overlook of Waiilatpu from atop the Whitman Memorial hill.  The trail passes a restored millpond and the Great Grave where 13 victims were buried in 1847, including Narcissa Whitman and her husband.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A portion of the Oregon Trail passed through Waiilatpu until rerouted south after 1844.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is not an NPS campground, but private campgrounds are located in Walla Walla, Washington.

Related Sites

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In addition to those killed in the attack at Whitman Mission on November 29, 1847, how many others were held hostage for a month until their ransom was paid?

John Muir National Historic Site

Overview

Martinez, California is now a bustling suburb of San Francisco, but it was once home to a fruit ranch managed by the famous 19th-century preservationist John Muir.  The house where he did most of his writing between 1890 and his death in 1914 is now backed by a freeway.  Classic non-fiction accounts of his outdoor adventures are still in print and include The Yosemite, Travels in Alaska, and Our National Parks.  His work as co-founder of the Sierra Club helped inspire elected officials to preserve huge sections of public land for the enjoyment of future generations.

Highlights

House tour, film, Mount Wanda, Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail museum

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit by watching the well-produced interpretive film A Glorious Journey (20 minutes).  Ranger-guided tours are the only way to step inside Muir’s 14-room Victorian house (free ticket required).  After the tour you can walk through what remains of the fruit orchards.  Also check out an adobe house on the property that is now a museum dedicated to the 1,200-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.

Best Trail

Off site is located a 326-acre portion of John Muir National Historic Site around Mount Wanda, named for one of Muir’s daughters.  A one-mile trail leads to the summit and full-moon hikes are guided by park rangers in the summer months.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Muir planted a giant sequoia tree from the Sierra Nevada here and it is quite large after a century of growth.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, though there is limited parking in the small NPS lot.  Be aware that traffic can be heavy in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Camping

There is no camping nearby, but perhaps you can follow in Muir’s footsteps and head for Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada.

Related Sites

Muir Woods National Monument (California)

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park (California)

Explore More – What did John Muir call his second-floor writing room where he composed some of the most influential works of his time?

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