Tag Archives: National Preserve

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?

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?

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Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Overview

If you seek an otherworldly experience right here on Earth, look no further than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in southeastern Idaho.  In the 1800s, this massive lava flow proved an obstacle to avoid for immigrants on the Oregon Trail.  In 1969 it truly earned its lunar label by serving as a field school on volcanic geology for NASA Apollo astronauts. 

Highlights

Boy Scout Cave, Indian Tunnel, cinder cones, tree molds

Must-Do Activity

The 7-mile loop road is paved and provides parking at several trailheads, including the wheelchair-accessible Devils Orchard Nature Trail.  Cinder cones, lava tubes, and tree molds are some of the unique volcanic features seen from the trails.  If you come here in the winter the loop road closes due to the amount of snow they receive at 6,000 feet elevation, but you can still explore on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

Best Trail

If you cannot make it to the incomparable Lava Beds National Monument in northern California, you can explore a couple of short lava tube caves here.  To explore Indian Tunnel you will need a free permit, but you do not even need a flashlight.  That is not the case inside the pitch black Boy Scout Cave.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Unlike the moon, there is life here despite its blackened, rocky appearance.  Hearty syringa bushes and limber pine trees sprout from cracks in the lava providing food and cover for sage grouse, pika, and other animals. 

Peak Season

Summer, but it can get very hot on the black rocks without any shade.

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The 7-mile loop road is paved, but other all roads into the monument require a heavy-duty 4×4 with excellent tires.

Camping

There is a first-come, first-served campground near the visitor center off Highway 93 that provides water, but no RV hookups.  Backpacking is allowed in the wilderness area.

Explore More – In what year did the nearby town of Arco, Idaho became the first community in the world to utilize nuclear power?

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)