Tag Archives: river

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Overview

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal was supposed to connect ports in Washington, D.C. with the Ohio River, but it never reached its destination before the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad rendered it obsolete in 1850.  It employed 35,000 laborers (mostly European immigrants) during its 22 years of construction and eventually carried coal out of the Appalachian Mountains for decades.  The canal closed in 1924, but it left behind indelible historic landmarks like locks, dams, aqueducts, historic hotels, and a 3,118-foot long tunnel.

Highlights

Historic locks, boat tours, Great Falls Tavern, boating

Must-Do Activity

C&O Canal National Historical Park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and offers multiple free visitor centers along the route that are open seasonally.  Near Washington, D.C. both the Great Falls Tavern and Georgetown Visitor Centers offer mule-drawn canal boat rides on a first-come, first-served basis April through October.  We enjoyed touring the historic locks of the canal in Hancock, Maryland after visiting Catoctin Mountain Park and Antietam National Battlefield.

Best Trail

Today you can walk and bike the graded 184.5-mile towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way if you choose.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The canal locks at Hancock, Maryland became part of the park that was created in 1971.  The boarding house located there now serves as an NPS visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, as most of the visitor centers are closed seasonally

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at Great Falls Tavern

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are primitive drive-in camping areas at five spots along the canal path, as well as 30 backpacking campsites spaced approximately five miles apart.  There is also a nice NPS campground at Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland.

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia-Maryland)

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (West Virginia-Maryland-Virginia)

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Explore More – At its peak of operation, how many mule-drawn boats were in service on the C&O Canal?

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Overview

Nez Perce National Historical Park is unique because it comprises 38 sites stretching across four states, not even including an 1877 incident inside Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.  Many of the locations (as well as Big Hole National Battlefield) cover the War of 1877, when a portion of the tribe fled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon towards the Canadian border only to be stopped 40 miles short by the U.S. Army at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.  Under the leadership of legendary Chief Joseph they crossed the Rocky Mountains at Lolo Pass, made famous by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that the tribe assisted in 1805.

Highlights

Museum, film, Heart of the Monster, Lolo Pass, Bear Paw Battlefield

Must-Do Activity

The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is in Spalding, Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where the “heart of the monster” resides.  According to legend, after Coyote slew the monster that inhaled all the people, its heart and liver came to rest on the banks of the Clearwater River.  This park is also unique because the Nez Perce remain an active tribe with a strong sense of community, as documented in the excellent new film at the visitor center.  Highway 12 follows the beautiful Clearwater River through northern Idaho and provides access points for the unpaved Lolo Motorway (a section of the Nez Perce National Historical Trail) and its many scenic overlooks.

Best Trail

Nez Perce National Historical Trail stretches 1,170 miles from Oregon to Montana, ending at the NPS site at Bear Paw Battlefield where a five-day fight finally led to the tribe’s surrender in October 1877.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At a roadside pullout on Highway 95 in Idaho, the NPS interprets White Bird Battlefield where 34 U.S. Army soldiers were killed on June 17, 1877 escalating the U.S. government’s conflict with the Nez Perce into a war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major roads are paved, with the notable exception of the Lolo Motorway which requires a high clearance vehicle (and four-wheel drive on its western end).

Camping

There are camping opportunities ranging from dispersed to developed located throughout Clearwater, Nez Perce, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Related Sites

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Explore More – After the 1863 “Steal Treaty” reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90%, what was the 1887 federal law that allowed another 90% to end up in white ownership?

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Overview

Many retaliatory acts occurred in the aftermath of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, leading the U.S. Army to launch a campaign against the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa following the signing of several peace treaties.  In November 1868, after unsuccessfully seeking protection at Fort Cobb, Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle and Arapaho Chief Big Mouth returned to their winter villages in the Washita River Valley.  The very next day a surprise attack was launched by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, capturing 53 and killing thirty to sixty Cheyennes, including Black Kettle and his wife.  Under Major General Philip Sheridan’s policy of “total war,” approximately 800 horses were then slaughtered and the village burned. 

Highlights

Museum, film, interpretive trail

Must-Do Activity

The events that took place the morning of November 27, 1868 in western Oklahoma have been described either as a battle or a massacre.  A small National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with exhibits on the events is shared with the U.S. Forest Service’s Black Kettle National Grassland.  Located just down the road on Highway 47 is a self-guided walking tour of the prairie battlefield. 

Best Trail

The 1.4-mile hiking trail through the battlefield leaves from an overlook of the historic site down to the Washita River where trees grow.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The vegetation is typical of Oklahoma prairie with grasses, yucca, and Indian blanket (in bloom in late May).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are private campgrounds in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, or you can head 25 miles southeast to Foss State Park.

Related Sites

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Explore More – When was this National Historic Site authorized by Congress?

Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration.  It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah.  Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery

Must-Do Activity

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah.  Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon.  The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall.  It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.

Best Trail

There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name.  Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars.  Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive.  The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.

Camping

There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District.  White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required).  Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.

Related Sites

Arches National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

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

Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?

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Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial

Overview

As a strict adherent to his own personal philosophy promoting “the strenuous life,” President Theodore Roosevelt regularly swam in the Potomac River, even in the middle of winter.  As a president with a proud record of conservation (especially in creating National Monuments), it is meaningful that his memorial lies on an 80-acre island with 2.5 miles of gravel trails leading through its beautiful and diverse deciduous forest. 

Highlights

Upland Trail, Swamp Trail, statue

Must-Do Activity

Fittingly, Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial is only accessible via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Dedicated in 1967, a 17-foot statue of the man is surrounded by several fountains and four monoliths carved with his words.  The foundation of a brick mansion owned by the Mason family in the 1800s can be seen from the trails on the island.

Best Trail

Teddy would surely appreciate that the island is situated along the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile pathway that follows the western bank of the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Teddy Roosevelt was known as a flamboyant orator, which is even captured in his silent statue.  In 1912, he famously gave an 84-minute campaign speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The parking lot is only accessible from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is itself a unit of the National Park Service (NPS) system.

Camping

None

Related Sites

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Maryland-Virginia)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (District of Columbia)

Rock Creek Park (District of Columbia)

Explore More – When did the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchase the island?