Tag Archives: National Historic Trail

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Overview

Early in the Civil War control of the state of Missouri hung in the balance.  Union and Confederate forces gathered near Springfield and both organized surprise attacks for the morning of August 10, 1861.  Rain overnight caused Confederate General Sterling Price to cancel his plan, but Union General Nathaniel Lyon went through with his in the face of overwhelming odds.  The strategy worked briefly but cost Lyon his life.  Even though the Union army retreated that day, seven months later they prevailed during the Battle of Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas, successfully keeping Missouri in the Union. 

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Ray House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Missouri stayed in the Union throughout the war despite the $10-million in property damage caused by guerrilla fighters, making it the third most fought-over state.  Start your visit by watching a short film, then peruse the excellent museum before taking the five-mile driving route that provides an overview of the battle at eight interpretive stops.  The paved road is heavily used by locals for jogging and biking, so drive carefully.

Best Trail

A portion of the infamous Trail of Tears crosses through this park following the route of the telegraph wire south towards Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas’ Pea Ridge National Military Park.  There are also hiking and equestrian trails through the park’s 1,926 acres.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Rebuilt at its original location, there is a reconstruction of the Ray House, which was used as a Confederate hospital.  Nearby split-rail fences add to the bucolic ambiance.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Paved, but gate closes tour road exactly at 5 p.m.

Camping

Within five miles there is a private campground near Interstate-44, plus a variety of state parks within an hour’s drive.

Related Sites

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Explore More – How many Union soldiers were buried in the sinkhole near Totten’s Battery on Bloody Hill (then in 1867 were moved to a National Cemetery in Springfield)?

Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Overview

Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming was originally founded in 1834 for its strategic location at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.  Purchased by the U.S. military in 1849, it saw its share of history as a major military post on the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route. West of the fort, stop at Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site and Register Cliff where pioneers left their mark along the North Platte River.

Highlights

Museum, film, 1874 Cavalry Barracks, 1849 “Old Bedlam”

Must-Do Activity

Come for the free 4th of July festivities and explore the restored buildings encircling the parade grounds, in between watching demonstrations of cannon firing and oxen plowing.  The National Park Service (NPS) employees host a variety of old-fashioned activities for kids and adults, including a three-legged race for adults.  Grab a partner and join in the fun or simply watch from the sidelines with a cold sarsaparilla, cream soda, or birch beer in your hand.  You are sure to have a good, old-fashioned good time even if you head home before the fireworks.

Best Trail

Fort Laramie was never a condensed, palisaded fort, so walking to all 11 restored structures covers quite a bit of distance (like Fort Union in New Mexico).  You can also hike along the banks of the Laramie River where the Oregon National Historic Trail once led.

Instagram-worthy Photo

“Old Bedlam,” the former quarters of bachelor officers, dates to 1849 making it the oldest documented building in Wyoming.  The right side is now restored to appear as officers’ quarters and the left side to post headquarters in 1863 when Lt. Col. William O. Collins lived on the second floor with his wife.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

The town of Fort Laramie offers camping at its small municipal park, or head west to Guernsey State Park with its historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures.

Related Sites

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Explore More – What was the name of the original stockade constructed by fur traders in 1834?

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Overview

Along a segment of the Arkansas River serving as a border with Oklahoma, Fort Smith is a lovely 35-acre park surrounded by a bustling downtown and busy railroad track.  The first fort at this site was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears.  A second fort was built nearby in 1838, occupied by both sides during the Civil War, then closed in 1871 when it became a Federal Court.

Highlights

Museum, restored courtroom, “Hell-on-the-Border” jail, Arkansas River

Must-Do Activity

The exhibits here demonstrate the harsh prison conditions and tell harrowing stories of frontier life that will make you cringe.  Do not miss the “Hell-on-the-Border” jail in the basement and the restored courtroom.  Outside, a reproduction of the gallows and several cannon emplacements provide a counterpoint to the idyllic riverfront setting. 

Best Trail

A half-mile trail crosses the railroad tracks to the banks of the Arkansas River.  The scenic beauty of the shoreline at sunset belies the turbulent history of this place, including its connection with the Trail of Tears, designated a National Historic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Take a photo in the painstakingly restored courtroom where Judge Isaac C. Parker heard 12,000 criminal cases during his 21 years on the bench in the late 1800s.  He sentenced 160 persons to hang, and 79 executions took place right here at Fort Smith.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and there is free parking on site.

Camping

Two miles north of Barling, Arkansas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages a campground on the Arkansas River.

Related Sites

Arkansas Post National Memorial (Arkansas)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Explore More – Fort Smith was established in 1817 to assist in the Cherokee relocation at the end of the Trail of Tears, but what American Indian tribe already inhabited this region?

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Overview

More than 200 years ago, Fort McHenry survived a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which did not officially become the U.S. national anthem until 1931).  The flag flying the night of September 13, 1814 measured 42 x 30 feet!  It is no wonder he was stirred while watching “the rockets’ red glare” from aboard a U.S. truce ship under British guard floating in the Chesapeake Bay outside Baltimore, Maryland.  The Congreve rocket was a new type of weapon at the time, and, luckily for the Americans, very inaccurate.

Geese flyover!

Highlights

Museum, film, fort, twice daily flag changes

Must-Do Activity

Fort McHenry went on to serve as a temporary prison during the Civil War, when its many cannons were pointed towards the city of Baltimore so Confederate sympathizers would not secede from the Union.  During World War I, the fort served as a veterans’ hospital before being designated a National Park Service (NPS) unit in 1925.  Later it was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the only park with this unique distinction. 

Best Trail

Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is not a hiking trail so much as it is a collection of sites related to the War of 1812 in and around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our flag is still there.  This is officially the only NPS unit where the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day.  Daily flag changes take place at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., weather permitting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved to the designated NPS parking lot.

Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park is located west of Baltimore, Maryland.

Related Sites

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Explore More – When a new state is added to the union, the newly redesigned flag is first flown over Fort McHenry, so when did that last occur?

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