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 (NPS) 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?

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Overview

Similar to the other National Park Service (NPS) sites in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area (see Related Sites below), visiting Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area requires navigating many suburban streets.  Established in 1978, this park is a combination of government jurisdictions and private land that protects 48 miles of the Chattahoochee River downstream from Lake Sidney Lanier northeast of the city.  Due to its lack of large rapids it is popular with canoers, although a release from Buford Dam can lead to a quick rise in river levels and the water is typically a chilly 44° to 58°F.

Highlights

Hewlett Lodge, Vickery Creek, Cochran Shoals, Sope Creek mountain bike trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start your visit is the NPS headquarters at Island Ford, which is housed in Hewlett Lodge, a beautiful Adirondack-style mansion built in the 1930s.  There you can get information about hiking, canoeing, and fishing within the National Recreation Area.  You can also walk down to the river’s edge to watch boaters and wildlife from shore.  Not far away in Roswell, Georgia, a short creekside trail leads to the ruins of a textile mill and a dam.

Best Trail

Most sections of the park have some type of hiking trail and there is a wetlands boardwalk within the Cochran Shoals unit.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The covered walking bridge is quite photogenic at the old mill in Roswell, Georgia.

Peak Season

Summer (although we have heard from an Alan Jackson song that it can get “hotter than a hootchie cootchie”)

Hours

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

Fees

Parking fee of $5 per day or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

No camping is allowed along the river.  The U.S. Corps of Engineers manages campgrounds on Lake Sidney Lanier at the northeastern end of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

Related Sites

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (Georgia)

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park (Georgia)

Explore More – How long is the Chattahoochee River from its mountain headwaters to its confluence with the Flint River at Lake Seminole?

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Overview

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is an underappreciated gem in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  It has gorgeous scenery, a winding reservoir, and abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep and wild horses.  The 525-foot tall Yellowtail Dam was completed in 1968, creating a 71-mile long reservoir, the majority of which is in narrow Bighorn Canyon where cliffs soar up to 2,000 feet above the water.

Highlights

Devil Canyon Overlook, Hillsboro Dude Ranch, Horseshoe Bend, Yellowtail Dam

Must-Do Activity

No road connects the north and south portion of the park, making for a long drive between the NPS visitor center in Lovell, Wyoming and the one at the Yellowtail Dam in Montana.  Thus, it is best to choose either one side or the other and explore the canyon by boat.  Devil Canyon Overlook and most of the 27 miles of hiking trails are in the southern section.  This is also where the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range enters into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.  In the summer there are lifeguards at the designated swimming areas at Horseshoe Bend and Ok-A-Beh.

Best Trail

The southern portion of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has trails to historic sites like Hillsboro Dude Ranch and several tipi rings found along Bad Pass Trail, a route which has seen over 10,000 years of human use.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you are unable to get out on the water, the highlight of the park is Devil Canyon Overlook where the cliffs drop over 1,000 feet straight down to the lake.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Almost every road is paved, but they are narrow and winding so may not be advisable for very long RVs.

Camping

There are drive-in campgrounds (fee) in both states, as well as free boat-in campgrounds on the Montana side.  Backcountry camping is allowed below the highwater mark of Bighorn Lake.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Explore More – The Yellowtail Dam is named after whom?

Top 10 National Recreation Areas

Mostly centered around reservoirs, the National Recreation Areas are best known for their water-based activities.  However, the hiking trails, historic sites, and scenery are also unparalleled.  Only 20 of the 43 National Recreation Areas in the United States are managed by the National Park Service (NPS), so we will have to make a separate list someday for those administered by the U.S. Forest Service.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity (California)

Four scenic waterfalls are accessible by hiking a total of 11 miles around Whiskeytown Lake

9. Gateway (New York-New Jersey)

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

8. Boston Harbor Islands (Massachusetts)

Every island offers a different experience, including some that allow camping

7. Amistad (Texas)

Fossils and 4,000-year-old pictographs await onshore of this lake shared with Mexico

6. Delaware Water Gap (Pennsylvania)

Raymondskill Falls and Dingmans Falls are located at the end of short hikes in the Poconos

5. Glen Canyon (Arizona-Utah)

Explore slot canyons and Rainbow Bridge National Monument by boat on Lake Powell

4. Big South Fork (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Yahoo Falls and Twin Arches are two interesting destinations located along its 400 miles of trails

3. Bighorn Canyon (Wyoming-Montana)

In addition to the narrow lake surrounded by soaring walls, nice trails explore above the cliffs

2. Lake Chelan (Washington)

The Cascade Mountains are named for their waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls in scenic Stehekin

…and finally the #1 National Recreation Area:

1. Lake Mead (Nevada-Arizona)

More than just the Hoover Dam; hot springs and canyons invite exploration

Honorable Mentions

Golden Gate (California)

Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and the Presidio are just three parts of this most-visited of all NPS sites

Ross Lake (Washington)

Stunning mountain scenery abounds in this area neighboring North Cascades National Park and Canada

Chickasaw (Oklahoma)

A bison herd and several beautiful natural springs, like Buffalo Springs

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

Overview

Established in 1996, there are 34 separate sites encompassed within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.  Not all of the areas are islands, some, like Worlds End, are the tips of peninsulas with roads accessing them from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.  The park is a managed by a hodgepodge of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boston Light on Little Brewster Island (open to ranger-led tours in the summer months).

Highlights

Worlds End, Governors Island, Webb Memorial State Park, Spectacle Island

Must-Do Activity

It is probably best to pick one island and thoroughly explore it by catching a ferry from Long Wharf North in downtown Boston, Hingham Shipyard, or Pemberton Point in Hull.  We chose Georges Island which is mostly taken up by Fort Warren, which dates back to 1850.  During the Civil War, the fort served as an artillery base and a prison.  The National Park Service (NPS) operates an excellent museum on the island and shows a film on its history.  Georges and Spectacle Islands are the only two islands that offer food for sale, plus they have water taxis leave from each dock to access many of the other islands.

Best Trail

Spectacle Island has five miles of hiking trails and also contains the highest point within Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area at 157 feet in elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site of the first lighthouse in America, Boston Light on Little Brewster Island can be seen from Georges Island and is open to guided tours in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/boha/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Passengers ferries charge fares, but there is not an entrance fee to the islands or Webb Memorial State Park.

Road Conditions

Most of the islands do not allow private vehicles, but you can bring your bicycle onto the ferries.  Webb Memorial State Park, Deer Island, Worlds End, and Nut Island are accessible by paved roads in the Boston area.

Camping

There are yurts on Peddocks Island and tent camping is allowed on Bumpkin, Grape, Peddocks, and Lovells Islands from late June through Labor Day.  Backcountry permits are required for stays on undeveloped islands.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Explore More – During the Civil War, who wrote the lyrics to “John Brown’s Body” while serving at Fort Warren?