Tag Archives: ocean

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?

Kenai Fjords National Park

Overview

Our favorite of the eight National Parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords.  It is a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Boat tours leave from the port of Seward and travel up beautiful Resurrection Bay, a long saltwater-filled valley (or fjord).  The town was named in 1903 for the Secretary of State who purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867 for less than two cents per acre, a move then known as “Seward’s Folly.”  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park accessible by road and is worth the side trip. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Exit Glacier, boat tours, tidewater glaciers, marine wildlife

Must-Do Activity

A tour boat is the easiest way to get up close to the variety of marine mammals and seabirds, but hardier souls can kayak the silty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.  Along the route to actively calving Aialik Glacier, you will see an abundance of wildlife: orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, cormorants, and so much more.  Some tour boats have a National Park Service ranger on board to narrate, answer questions, and help kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Tour boats get you close to the action to witness a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean.  These glaciers are one of 32 arms of the massive Harding Ice Field.

Best Trail

It is a short and worthwhile hike from the parking lot to the face of the rapidly receding Exit Glacier; black bears are common in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  You can continue hiking the steep 3.7-mile one-way trail up to 3,500 feet to view the expansive Harding Ice Field, but that requires at least four hours, serious endurance, and gear for the winter conditions that persist year round at that elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bundle up as it gets chilly when you pull up close to the actively calving Aialik Glacier.  You will be tempted to try capturing it all on your camera, but take some time to experience the action with your eyes, not through a viewfinder. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at Exit Glacier; boat tours cost about $200 per person

Road Conditions

The roads to Exit Glacier and Seward, Alaska are paved.

Camping

Two public-use cabins are available for rent in the summer and only accessible by water.  A free 12-site, walk-in tent campground is available at Exit Glacier, plus a winter-use cabin.  There are multiple RV parks in Seward, Alaska, a beautiful place to spend a few days fishing and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (recommended to do before your boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park).

Related Sites

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

This design we created to celebrate Kenai Fjords National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Who is Rockwell Kent and what is his connection with Resurrection Bay (hint: check out our Top 10 list of Alaska non-fiction books)?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top 10 National Seashores

There are exactly 10 National Seashores in the National Park Service (NPS) system, so choosing which ones to put in the Top 10 was not difficult.  However, they are all similar, so ranking them was tricky.  Also, without anything to put in the Honorable Mentions category, we decided to rank the three remaining National Lakeshores (after Indiana Dunes became a National Park in 2019).  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

There was a ton of plastic debris washed up on the beach, though the sea turtles did not seem to mind

9. Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Apollo Beach was too steep to lie down on, but we did see our first manatee in Mosquito Lagoon

8. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Great white sharks might keep swimmers out of the water, but there are some nice hiking trails

7. Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

This roadless area is most easily accessed by ferry from Long Island

Tiff with the lighthouse

6. Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Known for its lighthouses, beachside campgrounds, and good swimming conditions

5. Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

Wild ponies are its most famous residents, but also home to seahorses and other marine animals

4. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Watch for gray whales and elephant seals in the winter along the foggy Pacific coast

3. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

You will need a boat to access these barrier islands, a great place to camp and collect shells

2. Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)           

Take the ferry for a daytrip or an overnight camping experience, and hunt for fossilized shark teeth

…and finally the #1 National Seashore:

1. Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida-Mississippi)

Beautiful white sand beaches and interesting historic forts make this our favorite spot

Top 3 National Lakeshores

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Most of the sand dunes are covered by forest at this spot known for its fishing and canoeing

2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

We will never forget kayaking through the Petit Portal along the cliffs of Lake Superior

1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Sea caves carved by Lake Superior’s waves and island campsites are the biggest draw

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?

Olympic National Park

Overview

Rising from the Pacific Ocean to 7,980-foot tall Mount Olympus, western Washington’s Olympic National Park is arguably the most diverse National Park in the entire country.  Originally named as a National Monument in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect his namesake Roosevelt elk, the area was almost named Elk National Park when upgraded in 1938. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault, Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Falls, Hurricane Ridge

Must-Do Activity

Visitors can explore tidepools at Ruby Beach (pictured in our logo below), soak at a hot springs resort after hiking around Sol Duc Falls, experience sweeping mountain vistas from Hurricane Ridge, and boat across picturesque Lake Crescent.

Best Trail

There are more than 600 miles of trails, but one of the quietest is on the north shore of Lake Quinault and leads to a huge, hollow western redcedar tree.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Discover the moss-draped Hoh Rainforest, which at 160 inches annually experiences the highest rainfall totals in the continental U.S.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but notably the road up to Hurricane Ridge is not open every day of the week in the offseason.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds and four lodges, plus the historic Lake Quinault Lodge built in 1926 (and technically outside of the park).

Related Sites

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

This design we created to celebrate Olympic National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Although they are shrinking, how many glaciers are found in the Olympic Mountains?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.