Tag Archives: ocean

Point Reyes National Seashore

Overview

North of San Francisco, California, Point Reyes National Seashore is the only park so designated on the Pacific Coast of the U.S.  Be prepared to get wet as this piece of land located on the San Andreas Fault is frequently enveloped by a fog belt year round.  It might not be the best spot to sunbathe on the beach, but this unique seashore is a great place to watch wildlife.

Highlights

Point Reyes Lighthouse, beaches, Arch Rock, Historic Pierce Point Ranch, Tomales Bay

Must-Do Activity

The main attraction is the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where you can try to spot sea lions and gray whales on their winter migration.  It is 300 steps down to the historic lighthouse, then you have to turn around and climb back up.  Nearby Drakes Beach is off limits in the winter months when elephant seals gather there and you can watch (and listen to) them from an overlook.  The park is popular with road and mountain bikers, and well-protected Tomales Bay attracts kayakers.

Best Trail

An extensive trail system with backcountry campsites (including two near the beach) is best accessed from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.  Plus, you can always walk the 11-mile long Point Reyes Beach.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park has a reintroduced herd of Tule elk near the Historic Pierce Point Ranch on Tomales Point.  If you visit in January, you might find a bull was waiting for his other antler to drop.

Peak Season

Summer, though the weather is pretty much the same year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except a few short ones that access trailheads.

Camping

There is no campground in Point Reyes National Seashore, but there are backcountry campsites that area available with a permit (reservations available).

Related Sites

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)

Olympic National Park (Washington)

Explore More – How far did the entire Point Reyes Peninsula permanently shift during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake?

Top 10 National Parks 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.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Overview

Salem, Massachusetts may be best known for its “witch trials” of 1692 (during which nobody was burned to death, but about a dozen people were hanged in the region).  The town was also a significant trading port known for its shipbuilding.  During the American Revolution, Salem never fell to the enemy and its 158 privateers captured 445 English ships.  Deep water harbors like Boston later took away from Salem’s prominence, helping preserve its architecture until it was named the nation’s first National Historic Site in 1938.

Highlights

Derby Wharf lighthouse, Friendship of Salem, Custom House

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located downtown in the old Salem Armory and offers films and exhibits (including one covering the “witch trials” of 1692).  Most of its 14 protected structures are located a short walk toward the waterfront near Derby Wharf.  It is free to come aboard the Friendship of Salem, a full-scale replica of a 1797 merchant ship.  You can learn all sorts of information from the interpreters on the ship and perhaps weave some of your own rope to take with you as a souvenir.

Best Trail

The Derby Wharf Trail follows a paved breakwater out to a small lighthouse that dates to 1871.  This truly is a walking park with additional points of interest at the Salem Witch Museum, House of the Seven Gables, and Peabody Essex Museum (all of which charge admission).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 1819 Custom House is where novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne worked between 1846-48.  The original rooftop eagle carved in 1826 is housed inside, but a replica stands in its place.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but only street parking is available.

Camping

Harold Parker State Forest has a large campground located approximately 10 miles northwest of Salem, Massachusetts.

Related Sites

Boston National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – Who was the shipping merchant who became one of America’s first millionaires and whose house is now part of Salem Maritime National Historic Site?

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Overview

In the wake of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was anxious to know what he had just bought from France and find out if it provided an easy route to the Pacific Ocean.  He tapped his secretary Captain Meriwether Lewis as leader of the Corps of Discovery, who in turn named his former colleague Captain William Clark co-commander.  Lewis and Clark National Historical Park celebrates the wet winter of 1805-06 that the expedition spent on the coast of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Highlights

Fort Clatsop, Fort to Sea Trail, Cape Disappointment State Park, Fort Stevens State Park

Must-Do Activity

The park is spread across multiple sites, including scenic Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington, plus Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon.  Fort Clatsop was named a National Memorial in 1958 and still serves as the primary National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with exhibits and a film.  Other points of interest include the spot Sacagawea visited to see a beached whale and the salt works where seawater was boiled to produce the necessary commodity for the return trip.

Best Trail

When the Corps of Discovery finally saw the Pacific Ocean on November 7, 1805, Clark journaled, “Ocian in view! O! the joy.”  You can follow in their footsteps by starting at Fort Clatsop then hiking the 6.5-mile one-way Fort to Sea Trail, which marks the terminus of the 4,900-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (which is mostly a driving route).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Clatsop is a well-made replica of the small structure where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06 and inside you will find rustic furniture similar to that built in 1805.

Peak Season

Summer for costumed demonstrations, though a winter visit would be more historically accurate.

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Clatsop (or America the Beautiful pass) and each State Park has a separate entry fee

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved

Camping

Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon coast has hundreds of campsites for tents and RVs, and there is also camping available at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington)

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Explore More – Where did the Corps of Discovery spend the winter prior to Fort Clatsop and first meet Sacagawea?

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Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Overview

In Manteo, North Carolina, the Outer Banks islands protect Albemarle Sound, where Roanoke Island can be found.  If that name sounds familiar, it is because it was here that Fort Raleigh became the first English settlement in North America.  First scoped out in 1584, its original inhabitants all left with Sir Francis Drake after supply ships failed to arrive.  The 117 colonists that came in 1587 actually wanted to settle further north on Chesapeake Bay, but their captain left them here instead.  John White soon sailed back to England to get aid, but an ongoing war with the Spanish Armada kept him away until 1590.  Upon his return he found the fort deserted, the buildings stripped, and a fencepost marked “CROATOAN” (the name of nearby island).  White was thwarted in his attempt to land on Croatoan Island by a hurricane, so to-this-day nobody knows the true fate of the colonists.

Highlights

Museum, site of first British colony in America, Lost Colony Outdoor Drama

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service museum has excellent displays, including the videos of Sir Walter Raleigh (the fort’s namesake) in the Elizabethan Room.  It offers all the theories on happened to the settlers so visitors can decide what they believe.  “The Lost Colony” did lend its name to an outdoor musical performed most nights throughout the summer within the boundaries of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. 

Best Trail

The Thomas Hariot Nature Trail provides views of the reconstructed earthen fort, musical theater, and Albemarle Sound.  Hariot was a scientist who searched Roanoke Island in 1585 for precious metals and made drawings of the local flora and fauna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Waterside Theatre has hosted the outdoor symphonic play “The Lost Colony” every summer since 1937.

Peak Season

Summer beach season when the musical theater has performances

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for tickets to the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama.  Admission is also charged at the adjacent Elizabethan Gardens.

Road Conditions

All roads paved.

Camping

There is a private campground nearby, but we recommend you reserve a campsite near the beach within beautiful Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Related Sites

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Wright Brothers National Memorial (North Carolina)

Colonial National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More – What was the name of the baby girl born at Fort Raleigh, famous as the first child born of English parents in the Americas?