Tag Archives: National Preserve

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Overview

Authorized in 1992, Little River Canyon National Preserve covers about 14,000 acres in northeast Alabama.  Elevations range from 1,900-foot tall Lookout Mountain down to 650-foot Weiss Lake reservoir, as the Little River plunges from the Cumberland Plateau.  With cliffs up to 600 feet in height, this unique gorge contains several endemic species of plants and animals.  Only the southern half of the preserve is readily accessible by roads, with DeSoto State Park offering the best way to see the northern section.

Highlights

Little River Falls, Canyon Mouth, Graces High Falls

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the Little River Canyon Center on Highway 35, then make the short drive to the parking area for 45-foot tall Little River Falls.  From there, drive Highway 176 for 11 miles along the west side of the canyon, which has nine scenic overlooks, including one for seasonal Graces High Falls.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails in the preserve, many of which drop steeply from the rim to the riverside.  At the southern end near the intersection of Highways 273 and 275 is Canyon Mouth, a flat trail that follows alongside the Little River.  There is better hiking and even more waterfalls in nearby DeSoto State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Graces High Falls is 133 feet tall, making it the tallest (aboveground) waterfall in Alabama, but it only flows in the spring and after large rain events.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None except at Canyon Mouth ($15 per day or America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

De Soto State Park offers camping, in addition to excellent hiking trails to several waterfalls.  There are also three backcountry campsites in Little River Canyon National Preserve available from February through September with a permit.

Related Sites

Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many endemic species of caddisflies are found in Little River Canyon and nowhere else on Earth?

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Overview

Gustavus, Alaska (population 400) is the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and can be accessed by air or ferry from Juneau.  Some large cruise ships include the bay on their Inside Passage itinerary, but to get closer and really hear the thunder of cracking Margerie Glacier it is better to take a daytrip aboard a smaller catamaran from the docks at Glacier Bay Lodge.  Guided multi-day kayaking trips are one way to have a wild experience more similar to John Muir’s 1879 exploration detailed in his book Travels in Alaska.  Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Sitakaday Narrows, Bartlett River Trail, Margerie Glacier, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Vacation packages including boat tickets, meals, and a private cabin at the lodge are reasonably priced through the National Park Service (NPS) concessionaire.  Shortly after departing on your all-day boat tour you will see humpback whales in the Sitakaday Narrows, then up the bay are Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and a variety of seabirds.  By scanning the cliffs you might also spot mountain goats and brown bears.  The boat turns around at Margerie Glacier, a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. 

Best Trail

On the days you are not on the boat, there are several trails around Glacier Bay Lodge or you can explore the shoreline at low tide to see an assortment of marine life. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Lamplugh Glacier is not as active as Margerie Glacier, but may be more photogenic, which is why we chose to depict it in our logo for this National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for the park, but this is not a cheap place to visit.

Road Conditions

There are no roads to Gustavus, Alaska, which is only accessible by airplane or boat.  The NPS always sends a bus from Glacier Bay Lodge to pick up arrivals at the airport and ferry terminal.

Camping

There is a free NPS campground near Glacier Bay Lodge if you bring your own supplies. 

Related Sites

Sitka National Historical Park (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

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

Explore More – Glacier Bay was named a National Monument in 1925 and was expanded to become the largest NPS site (at the time) in 1939, but when was it finally designated a National Park?

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.

Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Overview

After a failed settlement by persecuted French Protestants (Huguenots) in 1562, two years later a group of 200 soldiers, artisans, and a few women established a colony at the mouth of the St. Johns River (east of present-day Jacksonville, Florida).  Led by René de Goulaine de Laudonnière, they hurriedly assembled the triangular Fort Caroline, named for King Charles IX.  In 1565, Jean Ribault arrived with 600 more settlers and soldiers.  After learning the Catholic Spanish had established a base to the south at St. Augustine, Ribault set sail for a surprise attack, only to be shipwrecked by a hurricane.  The unprotected Fort Caroline was easily captured by the Spanish, who executed 140 of its 200 inhabitants.  The Spanish then killed the majority of the 250 French marooned at Matanzas Inlet, which gained its name from these “slaughters.”

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Hammock Trail, Ribault Monument

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) administers Fort Caroline National Memorial (established in 1950) as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  After walking the Hammock Trail to see the reconstructed fort, drive to the nearby Ribault Monument, a replica of a stone column left by Jean Ribault at the mouth of the St. Johns River on May 2, 1562.

Best Trail

Within this 139-acre National Memorial, the Hammock Trail visits the reconstructed fort along the St. Johns River.  Starting from two parking lots south of Fort Caroline Road several trails explore Spanish Pond and the Theodore Roosevelt Area of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The actual site of the original fort has never been found (and is probably underwater), but you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular structure based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.  The French got a measure of revenge in 1568 when they attacked and burned Spanish-controlled Fort Caroline, but they could not take St. Augustine and never colonized Florida again.

Peak Season

Winter when there is less mosquito activity.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/foca_visiting.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Little Talbot Island State Park and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park (run by the city of Jacksonville) both have campgrounds.

Related Sites

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Explore More – When the Spanish took control of Fort Caroline in 1565, what did they rename it?

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve

Overview

In the remote southwest corner of Oregon, this marble cave system has been federally protected since 1909.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked extensively on the trail system and chateau-style lodge in the 1930s.  In 2014, an additional 4,000 acres were added to preserve the surrounding old-growth forests, the most biodiverse conifer-dominated ecosystem in the world.

Highlights

Cave tours, Oregon Caves Chateau, Big Tree, Mt. Elijah

Must-Do Activity

The Oregon Caves Chateau is currently closed for renovation, but is scheduled to reopen to guests in 2021.  That means the main reason to visit is to take a tour inside the cave, but bundle up because it remains a brisk 44°F year round.  The standard tour is 90 minutes, has a height requirement of 42 inches, and includes 500 stairs, which can be strenuous at 4,000 feet in elevation.  In the summer, a candlelight tour, off-trail “wild caving” tour, and family-friendly tour (for those with small children) are also offered.

Best Trail

The Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail covers 9.2 miles and gains 2,390 feet in elevation while providing the best views of the surrounding mountains.  At a minimum, you should try to hike the Big Tree Trail 2.6 miles roundtrip to the largest diameter Douglas-fir tree in Oregon.

Instagram-worthy Photo

After your cave tour exits far uphill from its entrance, continue on the Cliff Nature Trail for a great view of the lush Siskiyou Mountains.

Peak Season

Summer, since cave tours are only offered from late March through November.

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entrance fee to the park, but there is a charge for all cave tours (which can be reserved in advance).

Road Conditions

The paved entry road is winding and climbs steeply.  Most surrounding Forest Service roads are unpaved and one climbs to provide access near the top of the Bigelow Lakes-Mt. Elijah Loop Trail.

Camping

Cave Creek Campground is located 4 miles from the cave entrance.  Trailers are only permitted at Grayback Campground, further down the hill.

Explore More – Which native conifer tree provided the siding for the Oregon Caves Chateau?