Tag Archives: National Recreation Area

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Overview

The 2,320-mile long Mississippi River is legendary in our nation and well-known worldwide.  Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (NRRA) covers 72 miles of the famous river’s course through Minnesota, from busy metropolitan sections in the Twin Cities to secluded stretches of water.  Along this section it changes from its shallow headwaters to a powerful force at its confluence with the St. Croix River.  Established in 1988, the National Park Service owns only 35 acres of the 54,000 acres protected within the NRRA.

Highlights

St. Anthony Falls, Minnehaha Falls, Coldwater Spring, Indian Mounds Park, Mississippi Gorge Regional Park

Must-Do Activity

Near downtown Minneapolis is St. Anthony Falls, the only true waterfall on the Mississippi River’s entire length.  The falls powered gristmills and sawmills on both banks that drove the settlement of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Opportunities for walking, biking, boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, and wildlife watching (especially at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge) abound along the river depending upon the season.

Best Trail

In winter, urban trails along the Mississippi River are very pretty under a layer of white snow, and it can be very quiet and peaceful.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We enjoyed Minnehaha Regional Park where we found the 53-foot tall waterfall celebrated in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but there is no free parking available at the NPS visitor center located inside the lobby for the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Camping

There are no campgrounds managed by the National Park Service within the NRRA, however, there are many places to camp in the area.

Related Sites

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway (Minnesota-Wisconsin)

Missouri National Recreational River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota)

Explore More – What did the city of Minneapolis do to make sure Minnehaha Falls was flowing for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit during the 1964 drought?

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Overview

Fort Donelson National Battlefield commemorates the first major Union victory of the Civil War.  It quickly followed the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River (which is now flooded by Kentucky Lake).  The battle earned Union General U.S. Grant fame for his reply to Confederate General Simon Buckner: “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”  This led to the joke that his initials stood for “Unconditional Surrender.”  After more than 12,000 Confederate troops were taken prisoner on February 16, 1862, the Union army soon took Nashville, Tennessee.

Highlights

Dover Hotel, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Visitors today can take a six-mile driving tour to see the rifle pits, lower river battery, and earthworks along the Cumberland River, in addition to an exhibit on the first floor of the Dover Hotel (where terms of surrender were signed).  This hilly riverside park is also a nice place to exercise and watch for bald eagles and other wildlife. Fort Donelson National Cemetery is located nearby.

Best Trail

Fort Donelson National Battlefield is neighbors with Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.  Tucked between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, this area was claimed through eminent domain by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) when dams were built.  Outdoor recreation is now the focus with reservoirs, trails, bison and elk herds, a living history museum, and a planetarium.  Also, there are more than 200 cemeteries in this 170,000-acre area.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Giant cannons are mounted in the lower river battery along the Cumberland River.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for the National Battlefield, but there are entry fees for portions of Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, as well as at Paris Landing State Park.

Related Sites

Shiloh National Military Park (Tennessee)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee)

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Explore More – Fort Donelson and which other nearby fort were havens for escaped slaves later in the Civil War?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Overview

In 1964, Lake Mead became the first National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service (NPS).  It actually encompasses two reservoirs on the Colorado River: Lake Mead formed by Boulder Dam in 1936 and (further south) Lake Mohave formed by Davis Dam in 1951.  Boulder Dam was later renamed Hoover Dam and is one big reason this is among the busiest NPS sites with about 7-million annual visitors (also partly due to its proximity to Las Vegas, Nevada).

Highlights

Hoover Dam, Northshore Road, Redstone Trail, Arizona Hot Springs, boating

Must-Do Activity

The most fantastic destination in Lake Mead National Recreation Area is Arizona Hot Springs, where pools are formed by sandbags in a narrow canyon.  It is accessible from Liberty Bell Trailhead by a 6.5-mile roundtrip hike through a beautiful canyon down to the Colorado River.  The trail is closed during the hot summer months, but you can still access it by canoe or kayak from Willow Beach Marina or just downstream from the Hoover Dam (with a special permit). Downriver in Black Canyon, stop at Emerald Cove for incredible photographs.

Best Trail

Redstone Trail is a short loop hike through a fantastic red rock area found just off North Shore Drive.  It is similar to the photogenic Valley of Fire State Park located to the north.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The area around the Hoover Dam can get very crowded, as can the outstanding overlook on the 1,900-foot long Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (completed in 2010 to route Highway 93 traffic off the dam).  Standing 890-feet above the river below, it ranks as the second highest bridge in the United States behind Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge.  Be prepared to pass through a security screening if you park at the bridge or Hoover Dam.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass to access Willow Beach Marina or Lake Mead itself.  At Hoover Dam there is free parking on the Arizona side, but fees for the museum and tours.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, including the steep drive down to Willow Beach Marina, which also has a fish hatchery open to visitors.

Camping

There are multiple NPS campgrounds around the perimeter of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.  Backcountry camping is allowed without a permit at Arizona Hot Springs, which is even more spectacular after dark.

Related Sites

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (Nevada)

Explore More – Lake Mead is not often filled to capacity, so when was the last time its spillways were needed during a big snowmelt year?

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

Overview

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area is co-managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service.  The NPS is in charge of Whiskeytown Lake, a reservoir west of Interstate 5, about 230 miles north of San Francisco, California.  Camping, hiking, gold panning, fishing, boating, and swimming are popular activities, but watch out for poison-oak.

Highlights

Waterfall Challenge, Camden House, gold panning, lake recreation opportunities

Must-Do Activity

Pick up an official Waterfall Challenge Passport at the NPS visitor center along with information on the four waterfall hiking trails.  Tower House Historic District includes the Camden House built in 1852 by a Gold Rush prospector, with seasonal tours offered by the NPS (it was temporarily closed in 2019 after the Carr Fire).  You can even pan for gold (with a $1 permit).

Best Trail

Whiskeytown Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Brandy Creek Falls, and Crystal Creek Falls are accessible by hiking a total of 11 miles, but it may take longer depending on your choice of trails and road closures.  The trails are steep and poorly marked in some places.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Whiskeytown Falls is 220 feet tall and is accessible on a 3.4-mile roundtrip trail, but we thought the most photogenic waterfall was Crystal Creek Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Highway 299 on the north side Whiskeytown Lake is paved and accesses Oak Bottom Campground.  Some of the gravel access roads are rough, but passable even with passenger vehicles.

Camping

There are eight campgrounds around the lake, some tent-only, but RVs are allowed at Oak Bottom and Brandy Creek Campgrounds.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

Explore More – In what year was the Central Valley Project begun that years later formed the 3,200-acre Whiskeytown Lake?

Gateway National Recreation Area

Overview

Approximately 9-million visitors utilize the 26,600 acres of Gateway National Recreation Area annually, ranking it the fourth busiest unit in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  This is not surprising when you consider the number of people that live around New York Harbor.  The park is divided into three units: New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, and New York’s Staten Island and Jamaica Bay.

Highlights

Fort Wadsworth, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Fort Hancock, Floyd Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Must-Do Activity

On Staten Island, tours are offered of Fort Wadsworth, which sits at the base of the beautiful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Long Island.  It was part of the coastal defense system created to protect New York Harbor in the 1800s, which is clearly displayed at the outstanding NPS museum on the cliff above Fort Wadsworth.  In 1913, President William Howard Taft attended a ceremony dedicating the National American Indian Memorial to be built inside the fort, but it never came to fruition because of World War I.

Best Trail

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for birdwatching or watching airplanes take off and land at JFK Airport.  The trail around West Pond takes about an hour to walk and feels worlds away from Manhattan, which is visible on the skyline.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area is located on a spit of sand that sticks out from the New Jersey shoreline.  It offers beaches, tours of Fort Hancock, and a lighthouse that dates back to 1764 (making it the oldest continuously operated one in the U.S.).  For photos of Sandy Hook, check out our fellow National Park blogger Theresa’s website.  Below is one of her excellent photographs of Sandy Hook Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer for the beaches

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for beach parking at Sandy Hook and Jacob Riis Park in Queens (plus toll roads/bridges).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, plus many of the units of Gateway National Recreation Area are accessible by public transportation.

Camping

The NPS offers camping at all three units of Gateway National Recreation Area, so check the NPS website for details.

Related Sites

Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York-New Jersey)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – What famous U.S. coin was first publicly displayed at the 1913 dedication of the National American Indian Memorial at Fort Wadsworth?