Tag Archives: swimming

Virgin Islands National Park

Overview

More than half the island of St. John is part of Virgin Islands National Park, a Caribbean paradise known for its white sand beaches and crystal waters.  The National Park also includes 95% of Hassel Island, which was once a peninsula connected to St. Thomas.  The region is still recovering after Hurricanes Irma and Maria did extensive damage in 2017, but did not seem to affect the sugar mill ruins that have been standing since the 1720s.

Highlights

Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, Annaberg Sugar Mill, Petroglyph Trail, Saltpond Bay

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling is the number one reason to visit St. John, which is surrounded by coral reefs.  The Underwater Trail in popular Trunk Bay is a good place to start, but our favorite spot to snorkel was from the beautiful beach at Saltpond Bay where we saw sea turtles, reef squids, and countless other species.  From the beach a trail leads 1.8 miles roundtrip to the 200-foot high cliffs at Ram Head.

Best Trail

Reef Bay Trail starts near the island’s high point at 900 feet in elevation, then descends 1.5 miles to the split for Petroglyph Trail where the rocks around a seasonal waterfall have several Taino carvings.  Reef Bay Trail continues another mile to the ruins of a sugar mill where ranger-led hikes (fee) are met by a boat.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A small, paved pulloff at the top of a hill on North Shore Road looks east towards the white sand beaches of Trunk Bay, an image used in almost every promotional publication for St. John. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None, except when lifeguards are on duty at Trunk Bay.

Road Conditions

Two narrow, winding, paved routes (North Shore and Centerline Roads) leave from Cruz Bay where the ferries arrive.  Several dirt roads require four-wheel-drive, including Catherineberg Road.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

None on the island of St. John until the NPS reopens Cinnamon Bay Campground, which closed following the 2017 hurricanes.

We created this design to celebrate Virgin Islands National Park and it is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How long did the violent slave revolt in 1733 last before French troops arrived on St. John to return slaves to the sugarcane plantations?

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.

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

New River Gorge National River

Overview

Ironically, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world at 65-million years.  In the 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge it falls 750 feet in elevation, meaning it is full of Class I to V rapids that attract whitewater rafters from around the world.

New

Highlights

Bridge, scenic views, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, free campgrounds

Must-Do Activity

Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers information and great views of the New River Gorge Bridge.  From there you can drive down the twisty road to the river.  Most visitors come here for whitewater rafting, so you should consider hiring a guide to take you out.

Best Trail

The Endless Wall Trail makes a 3-mile loop trail that provides great views of the New River Gorge and the bridge, as well as access to some of the park’s 1,600 rock climbing routes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Completed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge is the second longest single-steel span in the world.  Highway 82 passes underneath where it rises 876 feet above the river.

IMGP5990.JPG

Peak Season

Summer (fall for whitewater rafting)

Hours

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

Fees

None, and even many of the NPS campgrounds are free.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads we drove were steep and windy but passable by passenger vehicles, probably not by RVs.

Camping

Gravel roads access 5 free primitive campgrounds and historic ruins like Thurmond Historic District.

Group shot!
Overlook on the Endless Wall Trail.

Scott (in red) along the Endless Wall trail

IMGP6012
Ladders provide a “less peligro” way for non-rock climbers to ascend the Endless Wall.
IMGP6030
Rhododendron bloom
IMGP5971
Some whitewater on the New River.

Morning fog along the New River gorge

Tiff swimming in the New River
There are lots of rapids, except here at Stone Cliff primitive campground.

Explore More – Annually, what day is the bridge closed to allow BASE jumpers and rappelers to play on it?

1WonsTiny2

WONDON WAS HERE

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Overview

In 1976, Platt National Park was combined with the nearby reservoir at Arbuckle National Recreation Area to form Chickasaw National Recreation Area, named for the neighboring Chickasaw Nation of central Oklahoma.  The trails and infrastructure in the park were predominantly built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Chickasaw.JPG

Highlights

Natural springs, bison herd, Lincoln Bridge, reservoir

Must-Do Activity

Visitors should start at the Travertine Nature Center, then visit the bison pasture and “take the waters” at Vendome Well.  Other diverse recreational opportunities include camping and water sports on the Lake of the Arbuckles.

Best Trail

Take the trail from the Travertine Nature Center to Antelope Springs and photogenic Buffalo Springs.  There is also loop trail around the bison pasture.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The U.S. Mint quarter (see photo below) for Oklahoma depicts the Lincoln Bridge built by the CCC, but it can be difficult to photograph through the trees.

IMGP1910

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except in Bluestem Prairie.

Camping

Multiple campgrounds, including several on the shores of the Lake of the Arbuckles.

IMGP1892
The adventurous road to Travertine Nature Center.

IMGP1896
There is a lot to learn inside the Travertine Nature Center.

IMGP1894

IMGP1907

IMGP1899

IMGP1898
The acorn caps from bur oak trees are huge.

IMGP1912
You have to try the sulphurous water fountain at Vendome Well.

Explore More – What was the original name for this federally protected area in 1902?

1WonsTiny2

WONDON WAS HERE

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.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Overview

There are no roads in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, but vehicles can drive the beach nearly the entire 56-mile length of these Outer Banks barrier islands.  A passenger ferry leaves from Beaufort, North Carolina to access the Shackleford Banks where feral horses reside.  Cape Lookout is on the South Core Banks, a great spot for camping, surf fishing, kite flying, and beachcombing.  This island is accessible aboard a passenger ferry from Harkers Island and a vehicle ferry from Davis.

Lookout.JPG

Highlights

Historic lighthouse, undeveloped beaches, seashells, beach camping

Must-Do Activity

If you enjoy beach camping, then you must spend at least one night on the islands.  Go beachcombing in the morning after watching the sunrise light up Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Best Trail

There are boardwalks around the ferry landing and lighthouse, otherwise just walk the beaches.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The majestic 163-foot tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse (wearing argyle) is the icon of this national seashore and looks best at sunset and sunrise.

The lighthouse sticking out of the low fog
Find this photo and many others for sale on Imagekind.

Peak Season

Summer (if there is not a hurricane forecast)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/calo/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Free to visit and camp, $16 roundtrip per adult for passenger ferry, sometimes a charge to climb to the top of the lighthouse

Road Conditions

Paved to the ferry docks in Beaufort and Harkers Island, sandy on outer islands (4×4 required)

Camping

Camping is free on the beaches, but unless you have your own boat you will need to pay for a ferry ride out there.  The oceanfront section of beach near Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to vehicles, making it perfect for backpackers.

Our campsite

IMGP0809

Pelican at sunrise

Tiff with her collection of shells she found
Seashell hunting out here is great; and yes, the National Park Service allows you to take a reasonable amount home.

Short billed dowitchers

Lighthouse reflection

Explore More – When was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse built?

1WonsTiny2

WONDON WAS HERE