Tag Archives: National Preserve

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Overview

The tallgrass prairie formerly covered 170-million acres of North America, but today only 4% of that exists in a few isolated pockets due to conversion to agriculture.  The Flint Hills of eastern Kansas were too rocky for tilling, so this was an ideal place to create Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996.  Occasionally, land managers utilize fire to support fire-adapted native grasses against invasive species. Before our visit in November 2014, large areas were burned.  The bison that live here enjoy eating the fresh green grass that sprouts following a fire and wildflowers thrive with the release of available soil nutrients.

Echo at Tallgrass Prairie

Highlights

Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd

Must-Do Activity

After reading the interpretive panels at the visitor center, walk around the buildings next door at the historic Spring Hill Ranch.  The 1881 ranch house is open for tours seasonally.

Best Trail

There are many trails that wander through the 10,894-acre preserve that is jointly run by the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service.  Many loop options are possible, but no backpacking is allowed, possibly due to the bison herd.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just down the road from Spring Hill Ranch is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School which was open from 1884 to 1930.  Its walls are made of local limestone.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Chase State Fishing Lake has 10 primitive campsites two miles outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds surround Council Grove Lake, which is located 20 miles north.

Explore More – At first the grasslands may all look the same, but how many species of plants are found within Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve?

Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

 

Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Top National Park Service Site in Each State

We kicked off our travel blog by highlighting our favorite National Park Service site in each of the 50 states.

Alabama

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Arkansas

Buffalo National River

California

Lava Beds National Monument

Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Connecticut

Weir Farm National Historic Site

Delaware

First State National Monument

Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

Georgia

Andersonville National Historic Site

Hawaii

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Idaho

City of Rocks National Reserve

Illinois

Pullman National Monument

Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park

Louisiana

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Maine

Appalachian National Scenic Trail 

Maryland

Catoctin Mountain Park

Massachusetts

Lowell National Historical Park

Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Minnesota

Grand Portage National Monument

Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park

Missouri

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Montana

Big Hole National Battlefield

Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nevada

Great Basin National Park

New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

New York

Fort Stanwix National Monument

North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ohio

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Oklahoma

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Oregon

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 

Pennsylvania

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Rhode Island

Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

Congaree National Park

South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument

Tennessee

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Texas

Big Bend National Park

Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Vermont

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park 

Virginia

Fort Monroe National Monument

Washington

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

West Virginia

New River Gorge National River

Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

…and finally our home state…

Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

 

Honorable Mention

District of Columbia

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Overview

Jean Lafitte was a New Orleans “privateer” (a.k.a. pirate) who assisted General Andrew Jackson in the fight with the British after the War of 1812 had officially ended.  In addition to three Acadian Cultural Centers spread throughout southwestern Louisiana and a small visitor center in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the NPS also offers trails and boat tours (fee) through the bayou.

Lafitte

Highlights

Barataria Preserve, Chalmette Battlefield, French Quarter, boat tours

Must-Do Activity

Every American needs to visit the French Quarter at least once in their life, but also make sure you visit the 24,000-acre Barataria Preserve to experience the bayous of Louisiana, whether you hike or take a boat.

Best Trail

South of downtown New Orleans off Highway 45 in the Barataria Preserve, keep your feet dry by hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look up when hiking in the bayou to find huge spiders, like this golden silk orb-weaver.

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Peak Season

Summers are muggy and buggy, but the park’s many visitor centers are closed only two days per year: Christmas and Mardi Gras.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but in 2016 we camped at Bayou Segnette State Park in the suburbs of New Orleans.

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Learn about the region’s music, food, and culture at the French Quarter visitor center in downtown New Orleans.

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Exhibits in the Old U.S. Mint are free

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Hiking the boardwalks on the Bayou Coquille Trail.

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Spanish moss drapes from the trees in the humid climate of the Mississippi River delta.

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The bayou stretches for miles in the undeveloped areas around New Orleans, Louisiana.

Explore More – Which president is mounted horseback on a statue in Jackson Square?

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Overview

Usually sand dunes are associated with deserts, but in southern Colorado they sit at 8,200 feet and are surrounded by snowy mountains, pine trees, and Medano Creek where kids splash and make sandcastles.  These dunes are the tallest in North America, up to 750 feet in height, blown in grain by grain from the San Juan Mountains, 65 miles to the west.

Dunes

Highlights

Medano Creek, High Dune, Medano Pass Primitive Road

Must-Do Activity

The height and steepness of the dunes makes them a great place to try sandboarding or sand sledding, which works best when the sand is wet.  If you don’t have a homemade sandboard, you can rent one in the nearby town of Alamosa or bring a plastic snow sled (round saucers seem to work well).

Best Trail

Blaze your own trail to the top of 650-foot tall High Dune.  The 2.3-mile roundtrip climb is quite a workout at this elevation while sliding backwards in the sand, but bounding downhill makes up for it.  This park is unique because it allows dogs on the dunes, but bring foot protection for your canine on sunny days.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stay in the dune field at sunset for long shadows on the dunes.  A major bonus if you visit in the spring or fall for a backdrop of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Peak Season

Due to its high elevation (8,200 feet), summer is the best time to spend the night, otherwise it can be very cold.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass, but it is typically not collected in winter months.

Road Conditions

Other than the four-wheel drive road over Medano Pass, passenger vehicles can access all trailheads.  The park provides specialized wheelchairs are available for crossing Medano Creek and exploring the sand dunes.

Camping

Pinyon Flats Campground (fee) has two 44-site loops frequented by mule deer.  Backpacking permits are free to overnight on the dunes where the stars shine brightest.  First-come, first-served campsites are available along the high-clearance Medano Pass Primitive Road.  Dispersed camping is allowed in the neighboring Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.

June 2013 Colorado Trip 360

June 2013 Colorado Trip 274

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Pronghorns at the dunes
Pronghorns grazing in front of the sand dunes in December.

 

Tiff with the mountains
Tiff sledding down a wet (i.e. fast) dune in October

 

Tiff heading to the parking lot
October brings fall colors to the cottonwoods

 

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Our original logo is for sale on a variety of products on Amazon and Cafe Press

Explore More – What time of year can visitors “boogie board” the waves in Medano Creek?

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