Tag Archives: National Park

Everglades National Park

Overview

Everglades National Park covers most of the southwestern corner of Florida.  The ’Glades are very flat, with elevation topping out at 8 feet above sea level.  This region is important to many unique species of wildlife, imperiled by sea level rise and the introduction of exotic species.  Incredibly close to the city of Miami, the Shark Valley tram tour offers a great opportunity to see alligators.  Near the campground at Flamingo, Eco Pond and Mrazek Pond are both good spots to watch for wading birds like ibis, egret, heron, wood stork, and roseate spoonbill.

Highlights

Eco Pond, Mahogany Hammock, Anhinga Trail, Shark Valley tram tour, Wilderness Waterway

Must-Do Activity

There are few roads in Everglades National Park, so the best way to experience this “river of grass” is from the water.  There are guided tours out of Flamingo and Thousand Islands, or you can get a permit to explore the untamed Wilderness Waterway and the keys of Florida Bay.  We had a blast navigating the mangrove channels to our chickee (elevated camping platform) and did not see another person for two days. “Hell to get into; hell to get out of” is how old-timers described the mazelike route to Hell’s Bay.  Good navigation skills are required and you should come prepared for mosquitoes every month of the year.

Best Trail

On the Anhinga Trail, its namesake birds stretch their wings to dry in pond apple trees while alligators swim right under your feet beneath the boardwalk. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wildlife abounds so you will want to remember to bring your binoculars and a zoom lens for your camera.  You can get good photos of alligators while remaining safe and dry on the Anhinga Trail boardwalk.  We also got very close to a barred owl and several black vultures on the same trail in April 2014.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The major entry roads are paved to access Flamingo, Thousand Islands, and Shark Valley.

Camping

Camping in the park, at Long Pine Key or Flamingo, provides quick access to trails that come alive with wildlife during the crepuscular hours (sunrise and sunset). 

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

Explore More – Who was the woman instrumental in the creation of Everglades National Park when she published The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947?

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Overview

Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico is the most spectacular cave in the United States (and #1 on our Top 10 List).  Exploring the Big Room at your own pace is a great option, but you can add to your experience with guided tours of off-limits sections.  The King’s Palace Tour is short but scenic; and Left Hand Tunnel was historically used for movies.  Lower Cave Tour requires the use of ropes and ladders to access unlit portions of the cave.  Slaughter Canyon Cave tour requires an extra hour drive, but visits some astonishing formations.  “Wild caving” tours include Spider Cave and the Hall of the White Giant. 

Highlights

Big Room, Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area, Bat Flight Program

Must-Do Activity

To enjoy the evening Bat Flight Program (where cameras are prohibited) you must come during the warmer months.  Brazilian free-tailed bats migrate to the cave from the south and around sunset exit from the Natural Entrance in clockwise circling swarms.  You will swear there are like a “Brazilian” of them, but the actual number is closer to 500,000.  For an experience you will hear more than see, come back before sunrise as the bats zip by your head down into the cave for their day’s rest.

Best Trail

For your first visit, we recommend taking the self-guided trail from the Natural Entrance down a steep, paved passage into the heart of the cave, since you can always ride the elevators back up to the surface.  After being surrounded by the natural cave formations, it was a bit jarring to come upon a modern restroom and cafeteria 775 feet underground. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Nothing can prepare you for the immensity of the Big Room, which is big enough to fit eight football fields with a ceiling that rises up to 255 feet.  It defies belief that this cavity could have formed naturally.  Perhaps the best part of this section of cave is that you can take as much time as you like admiring the formations.  For the best photographs, we recommend using a tripod.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be hot outside the 56°F cave.

Hours

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

Fees

No entrance fee, but there is a charge for each guided cave tour.

Road Conditions

Main entrance road is paved, but Walnut Canyon Desert Drive and much of the route to Slaughter Canyon Cave are not.

Camping

There are no campgrounds within the park, but there is a private campground near the park entrance in Whites City, New Mexico.  Just down the highway in Texas, the National Park Service offers camping at Pine Springs within Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Free permits are required for backcountry camping, with Rattlesnake Canyon off Walnut Canyon Desert Drive being a popular destination.

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

Explore More – Historically, what was mined from the Natural Entrance and Slaughter Canyon Cave?

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Virgin Islands National Park

Overview

More than half the island of St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park, a Caribbean paradise known for its white sand beaches and crystal waters.  The National Park also includes 95% of Hassel Island, which was once a peninsula connected to St. Thomas.  The region is still recovering after Hurricanes Irma and Maria did extensive damage in 2017, but did not seem to affect the sugar mill ruins that have been standing since the 1720s.

Highlights

Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, Annaberg Sugar Mill, Petroglyph Trail, Saltpond Bay

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling is the number one reason to visit St. John, which is surrounded by coral reefs.  The Underwater Trail in popular Trunk Bay is a good place to start, but our favorite spot to snorkel was from the beautiful beach at Saltpond Bay where we saw sea turtles, reef squids, and countless other species.  From the beach a trail leads 1.8 miles roundtrip to the 200-foot high cliffs at Ram Head.

Best Trail

Reef Bay Trail starts near the island’s high point at 900 feet in elevation, then descends 1.5 miles to the split for Petroglyph Trail where the rocks around a seasonal waterfall have several Taino carvings.  Reef Bay Trail continues another mile to the ruins of a sugar mill where ranger-led hikes (fee) are met by a boat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A small, paved pulloff at the top of a hill on North Shore Road looks east towards the white sand beaches of Trunk Bay, an image used in almost every promotional publication for St. John. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None, except when lifeguards are on duty at Trunk Bay.

Road Conditions

Two narrow, winding, paved routes (North Shore and Centerline Roads) leave from Cruz Bay where the ferries arrive.  Several dirt roads require four-wheel-drive, including Catherineberg Road.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

None on the island of St. John until the NPS reopens Cinnamon Bay Campground, which closed following the 2017 hurricanes.

We created this design to celebrate Virgin Islands National Park and it is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How long did the violent slave revolt in 1733 last before French troops arrived on St. John to return slaves to the sugarcane plantations?

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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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Denali National Park and Preserve

Overview

At 20,320 feet above-sea-level, Denali is the highest point in North America.  It is also the tallest mountain on Earth measured from base to summit.  Mt. Everest starts from a 13,000-foot plateau, while Denali’s base is only 700 feet.  The park is also home to an incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including our favorite, the hoary marmot.

Highlights

Denali peak, Sled Dog Demonstration, Mt. Healy Overlook Trail, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The summit of Denali is only visible 10% of the summer, so flightseeing is the most successful option to the see the peak.  While in the park, it is better to focus on the wildlife, so bring a good camera with a zoom lens for moose, caribou, Dall sheep, gray wolves, and brown bears.  Your best chance to see wildlife is to buy a shuttle bus ticket online or at the Wilderness Access Center.  We recommend you only take the eight hour roundtrip to Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66) and spend some time hiking the tundra, instead of going all the way to Wonder Lake (Mile 85).

Best Trail

Most of the park is managed as wilderness so there are no trails, but around the park entrance there are a few.  We recommend climbing as high on the steep trail up Mt. Healy as you can for unsurpassed views of the mountainous area.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Even if the summit of Denali is hidden, the tundra scenery here is incredibly colorful, especially around the bus stop for Polychrome Overlook (Mile 47).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no admission fee; however, visitors can only get past Mile 15 of the Park Road on a tour bus or with campground or backcountry reservations.

Road Conditions

The Park Road is paved to the Mile 15 Savage River Check Station, past which personal vehicles are not allowed.  The dirt road is groomed, but it can get bumpy in the back of the bus.

Camping

Riley Creek Campground is open year round, a rarity in Alaska.  A reservation at Teklanika River Campground allows you to drive your own vehicle to Mile 29 partway into the park.  


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

Explore More – How many earthquakes are recorded annually in Denali National Park and Preserve?

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.