Tag Archives: State Park

Little River Canyon National Preserve

Overview

Authorized in 1992, Little River Canyon National Preserve covers about 14,000 acres in northeast Alabama.  Elevations range from 1,900-foot tall Lookout Mountain down to 650-foot Weiss Lake reservoir, as the Little River plunges from the Cumberland Plateau.  With cliffs up to 600 feet in height, this unique gorge contains several endemic species of plants and animals.  Only the southern half of the preserve is readily accessible by roads, with DeSoto State Park offering the best way to see the northern section.

Highlights

Little River Falls, Canyon Mouth, Graces High Falls

Must-Do Activity

Start your visit at the Little River Canyon Center on Highway 35, then make the short drive to the parking area for 45-foot tall Little River Falls.  From there, drive Highway 176 for 11 miles along the west side of the canyon, which has nine scenic overlooks, including one for seasonal Graces High Falls.

Best Trail

There are a few short trails in the preserve, many of which drop steeply from the rim to the riverside.  At the southern end near the intersection of Highways 273 and 275 is Canyon Mouth, a flat trail that follows alongside the Little River.  There is better hiking and even more waterfalls in nearby DeSoto State Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Graces High Falls is 133 feet tall, making it the tallest (aboveground) waterfall in Alabama, but it only flows in the spring and after large rain events.

Peak Season

Spring

Hours

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

Fees

None except at Canyon Mouth ($15 per day or America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

De Soto State Park offers camping, in addition to excellent hiking trails to several waterfalls.  There are also three backcountry campsites in Little River Canyon National Preserve available from February through September with a permit.

Related Sites

Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Explore More – How many endemic species of caddisflies are found in Little River Canyon and nowhere else on Earth?

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?

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

Overview

Roger Williams National Memorial used to be the only National Park Service (NPS) site in Rhode Island, but in 2014 Blackstone River Valley was upgraded from an affiliated National Heritage Corridor to a National Historical Park.  It commemorates the industrial revolution that changed the landscape of America during the 1800s, as well as the immigration of factory workers that changed its face.  Another NPS-affiliated point of interest in the tiny state is Touro Synagogue National Historic Site (admission charged) in Newport.

Highlights

Slater Mill Historic Site, Blackstone River State Park, Statue of Hope Fountain

Must-Do Activity

Formerly known as the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, this NPS unit remains a partnership between government agencies, non-profits, and businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  Its centerpiece is the nation’s first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory: Slater Mill Historic Site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.  By 1880, this “hardest working river” was one of the most polluted in the country, but has recovered so that canoeists can float portions of its 46-mile length.

Best Trail

Blackstone River State Park has a free museum (inside the Kelly House) and a section of the canal that followed the river.  There are 3.5 miles of the 14-mile (of a planned 48) paved bikeway along the canal towpath within this Rhode Island park.  Another section of trail lies within Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park near River Bend Farm in Massachusetts.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Statue of Hope Fountain was dedicated on November 12, 1904 in the town of Hopedale, Massachusetts.  It was carved from Carrara marble by Waldo Story and was once considered the “finest drinking fountain in the United States.” We found it a little creepy looking.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for Blackstone River State Park, but Slater Mill Museum charges $12 per person.

Road Conditions

All major roads paved

Camping

Rhode Island State Parks manages several campgrounds, including George Washington State Campground in Chepachet.

Related Sites

Roger Williams National Memorial (Rhode Island)

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Explore More – When did English immigrant Samuel Slater take over a failed mill to start the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in America?

Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Overview

When you park at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site you are in Montana, but as you walk to the fort you cross into North Dakota, changing time zones from Mountain to Central Time.  Strategically located near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, the trading post lasted from 1828 to 1867 when it was sold to the U.S. Army who dismantled it to build Fort Buford two miles downstream.  Fort Union primarily traded with Plains Indians for bison hides, since beaver skin top hats were out of fashion by that point.

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Fort Buford State Historic Site, Missouri-Yellowstone River confluence

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the reconstructed Bourgeois (field agent) House, one of several buildings and palisades rebuilt between 1985 and 1991 using rot-resistant fir instead of the original cottonwood.  After touring Fort Union, drive to Fort Buford State Historic Site where a visitor center (fee) opened at the two rivers’ confluence in August 2003 as part of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration.

Best Trail

The Bodmer Overlook Trail climbs one mile to a point where Swiss painter Karl Bodmer sketched the fort in 1833.  The trailhead is located north of Highway 1804.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The colorful Bourgeois House is where the trading post manager lived.  A four-day fur-trade rendezvous is held annually at the park in June.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at the NPS site, but there is an entrance fee at Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Road Conditions

Access roads are paved.

Camping

There is a campground at nearby Fort Buford State Historic Site.

Related Sites

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (Washington)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Explore More – What famous ornithologist stayed at the fort in 1843?

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

Overview

River Raisin National Battlefield Park is located in Monroe, Michigan near where the mouth of the river empties into Lake Erie.  During the War of 1812, the U.S. had a plan to invade Canada which fell through after the surrender of Detroit.  Five months later in January 1813, U.S. troops were heading towards Detroit when they made a detour to Frenchtown to drive off a small detachment of Canadians.  Following an initial victory, a few mornings later a British surprise attack captured or killed all but 33 of nearly 1,000 troops.  When Indian allies of the British returned to scalp six (according to the British) or 42 (according to the Americans) injured prisoners the devastating defeat became immortalized in the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin!”

Highlights

Museum, film, River Raisin Heritage Trail

Must-Do Activity

River Raisin National Battlefield Park was not authorized until 2009, so it has a nice new visitor center opened in 2011.  The National Park Service (NPS) has even attempted to make it kid-friendly by creating a stuffed animal of Major Muskrat with multiple costume options available in the gift shop.  It is not often that an NPS site commemorates an American defeat in battle.  In 1813, the U.S. went onto victory at the Battle of Lake Erie and the Battle of Thames in southern Ontario.  For some reason, the Canadians do not have their own National Historic Site dedicated to that one.

Best Trail

The 42-acre park is mostly a lawn with a paved path dotted by interpretive signs.  You can also hook into the River Raisin Heritage Trail, which takes you to Sterling Stare Park on Lake Erie.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A replica of a cannon used at the January battle is on sled runners; pretty unique!

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Sterling State Park offers a 256-site campground on Lake Erie.

Related Sites

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial (Ohio)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Explore More – Native Americans were left out of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812, so when did the U.S. sign the Treaty of Springwells officially ending hostilities?