Tag Archives: National River

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?

Niobrara National Scenic River

Overview

When most folks think of Nebraska they imagine endless dusty prairie scenes of the Oregon Trail, yet between the wide Platte and Missouri Rivers also runs the 535-mile long Niobrara River.  The Niobrara cuts across the 100th Meridian of Longitude that roughly divides in half the continental U.S.  This special area is home to species representative of the eastern forests, Rocky Mountains, boreal forests, and prairies; consequently it has high biodiversity.  The motto on the National Park Service (NPS) signs is “Public Waters, Private Land.”

Highlights

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Falls Trail, Smith Falls State Park, canoeing, tubing

Must-Do Activity

The 76-mile section of river designated the Niobrara National Scenic River in 1991 begins within Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where the first 4.8 miles are closed to the public.  The 22-mile section starting from Cornell Bridge is the most popular portion for canoers, tubers, and people who float downstream in round metal cattle troughs.  The Niobrara River has a few big Class IV rapids, but nothing more than Class II through the first 27 miles.  We floated to the portage at dangerous Rocky Ford Rapid at high water in May and encountered only Class I rapids and a few strainers along the shorelines.

Best Trail

Pull off the river around Mile 15 in Smith Falls State Park to take the short boardwalk to a 63-foot tall waterfall.  The waterfalls along these cliffs are interesting because instead of pouring off a cut bank they develop a prominent ledge that grows as the limestone is dissolved and redeposited (like a cave formation).  You can also drive to the state park and walk over the Niobrara River on the Verdigre Bridge, originally built in 1910 and relocated here in 1996.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Do not miss the opportunity to drive the dirt road through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to see the bison herd, especially in May when the bison calves are born.  The refuge also contains the short Fort Falls Trail, which forms a loop with views of a 45-foot tall waterfall.

Peak Season

Summer, though water levels drop after June.

Hours

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

Fees

None for the river, but there is a $1 per person launch fee in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and entry/camping fees at Smith Falls State Park.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles.

Camping

Camping options are limited since most of the river banks are privately owned, though Smith Falls State Park offers a campground ($6/person/night) and other private campsites are marked on river maps.

Related Sites

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Explore More – Named for a town in Nebraska, the Valentine Formation holds what types of fossils?

Top 10 National Park Service Sites for Kayaking

We own a 17-foot long tandem kayak that we have taken all over the United States, including some rivers where it may have been preferable to canoe.  Some of our most memorable National Park experiences have happened while seated in our kayak.  This does not include two amazing trips through Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, which you can read about on our other travel blog since it is not managed by the National Park Service.  Please check out all of our Top 10 lists for more adventure ideas and book recommendations!

10. Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (U.S. Virgin Islands)

There is no dry land in this Caribbean monument that borders Virgin Islands National Park.

9. Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

Canoes are also commonly used to explore the Jack’s Fork and Current Rivers.

8. Biscayne National Park (Florida)

A kayak can get close to the mangroves since most of this park covers ocean south of Miami.

7. Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Find a free lakeside campsite and fall asleep listening to loons call.

6. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Get up close to wildlife and baldcypress knees on Cedar Creek.

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

Stop at Emerald Cove for photos on the way to or from Arizona Hot Springs.

4. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

The only way to see Petit Portal is from the water and a kayak is necessary to go through it.

3. Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Canoes may be preferable to run through the Ponca Wilderness during spring runoff.

2. Everglades National Park (Florida)

The best way to see this park is from a small boat, plus by staying overnight on a chickee.

…and finally our #1 National Park for kayaking!

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Sea caves carved by the waves of Lake Superior require a small craft to explore.

Honorable Mentions

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Located on the San Andreas Fault, Tomales Bay is a protected spot to explore north of San Francisco.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

We have heard the best way to see this park is by kayak, but it sounds really cold.

Channel Islands National Park (California)

We hope someday to take a guided kayaking trip to the sea caves on Santa Cruz Island.

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Spanish moss-draped baldcypress trees line these picturesque bayous.

Missouri National Recreational River

Overview

Forming the border of Nebraska and South Dakota, the Missouri National Recreational River was originally designated in 1978, but only 300 of its 34,128 acres are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  Its lower segment runs 59 miles from the Gavins Point Dam to Ponca State Park.  More than a decade later, a 39-mile stretch was added from the Fort Randall Dam to Niobrara State Park, and includes 20 miles of the Lower Niobrara River (which is itself designated a National Scenic River upstream).  The section of river in between is a 29-mile long reservoir known as Lewis and Clark Lake, named for the explorers that led the Corps of Discovery up this section of river in August-September 1804.

Highlights

Lewis and Clark Visitor Center, Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, boating, fishing

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors come for the boating and fishing opportunities along the Missouri River.  If you are well-prepared, canoeing can be a fun way to experience these two relatively free-flowing sections of river.  The NPS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) manage the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center near Yankton, South Dakota, which, in addition to dam tours, offers the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium.

Best Trail

The 4,400-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail tracks through here, but since the Corps of Discovery used the Missouri River as their path, there is no hiking trail to follow.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are several great museums along the Missouri River section of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail.  Our favorite is the NPS headquarters for the trail in Omaha, Nebraska, which has the beautiful Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the river connecting to Iowa.  If you drive over to Council Bluffs, do not miss the free museum at the Western Historic Trails Center.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for the NPS unit, but the state parks charge admission.

Road Conditions

Roads to the state parks and visitor centers are paved, but there are many dirt roads that access boat launches along the river.

Camping

Niobrara State Park and Ponca State Park both have more than 100 campsites with running water.  The COE also operates campgrounds near its dams.

Related Sites

Niobrara National Scenic River (Nebraska)

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In the aftermath of several devastating floods, when did Congress enact the Flood Control Act to construct five dams along the Missouri River?

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River

Overview

Authorized in 1978, this 73-mile stretch of the Upper Delaware River is the longest free-flowing river in the northeast United States.  Forming the Pennsylvania-New York borderline, only 30 of its 55,575 acres are federally owned.  Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River is one of 43 designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers, 10 of which are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

Highlights

Zane Grey Museum, Roebling Aqueduct, fishing

Must-Do Activity

The Upper Delaware River is famous for year-round bald eagle viewing, Class I and II whitewater rafting, and fishing for smallmouth bass and walleye.  The NPS runs the Zane Grey Museum, which celebrates the “Father of the Western Novel” who lived in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania from 1905 to 1918 and loved fishing here (and throughout his worldwide travels).  It was in this house that the former dentist (Zane Grey) wrote many articles about his outdoor adventures, as well as his novels, including Riders of the Purple Sage (published in 1912).

Best Trail

There are six trails you are required to complete in order to earn your Upper Delaware Hikes patch from the NPS, ranging in length from the quarter-mile Minisink Battleground (Revolutionary War) to the three-mile Tusten Mountain Trail, which provides an excellent view of the river valley.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Within eyeshot of the Zane Grey Museum, the Roebling Aqueduct operated between 1848 and 1898 to allowed coal-laden canal boats to cross over the Upper Delaware River.  Its architect is better known for the Brooklyn Bridge, but this aqueduct was converted to a one-lane car bridge before being purchased by the NPS in 1980.

Peak Season

Spring through fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads paved, with Highway 97 in New York following the river for most of its length.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds, but many private ones along the Upper Delaware River.

Related Sites

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania-New Jersey)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – Although they live in the Delaware River for most of their lives, what is the name of the sea in the Atlantic Ocean where eels migrate to spawn and die?