Tag Archives: swimming

Missouri National Recreational River

Overview

Forming the border of Nebraska and South Dakota, the Missouri National Recreational River was originally designated in 1978, but only 300 of its 34,128 acres are managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  Its lower segment runs 59 miles from the Gavins Point Dam to Ponca State Park.  More than a decade later, a 39-mile stretch was added from the Fort Randall Dam to Niobrara State Park, and includes 20 miles of the Lower Niobrara River (which is itself designated a National Scenic River upstream).  The section of river in between is a 29-mile long reservoir known as Lewis and Clark Lake, named for the explorers that led the Corps of Discovery up this section of river in August-September 1804.

Highlights

Lewis and Clark Visitor Center, Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium, boating, fishing

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors come for the boating and fishing opportunities along the Missouri River.  If you are well-prepared, canoeing can be a fun way to experience these two relatively free-flowing sections of river.  The NPS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) manage the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center near Yankton, South Dakota, which, in addition to dam tours, offers the Gavins Point National Fish Hatchery and Aquarium.

Best Trail

The 4,400-mile long Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail tracks through here, but since the Corps of Discovery used the Missouri River as their path, there is no hiking trail to follow.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are several great museums along the Missouri River section of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail.  Our favorite is the NPS headquarters for the trail in Omaha, Nebraska, which has the beautiful Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the river connecting to Iowa.  If you drive over to Council Bluffs, do not miss the free museum at the Western Historic Trails Center.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None for the NPS unit, but the state parks charge admission.

Road Conditions

Roads to the state parks and visitor centers are paved, but there are many dirt roads that access boat launches along the river.

Camping

Niobrara State Park and Ponca State Park both have more than 100 campsites with running water.  The COE also operates campgrounds near its dams.

Related Sites

Niobrara National Scenic River (Nebraska)

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Explore More – In the aftermath of several devastating floods, when did Congress enact the Flood Control Act to construct five dams along the Missouri River?

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area

Overview

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area is co-managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service.  The NPS is in charge of Whiskeytown Lake, a reservoir west of Interstate 5, about 230 miles north of San Francisco, California.  Camping, hiking, gold panning, fishing, boating, and swimming are popular activities, but watch out for poison-oak.

Highlights

Waterfall Challenge, Camden House, gold panning, lake recreation opportunities

Must-Do Activity

Pick up an official Waterfall Challenge Passport at the NPS visitor center along with information on the four waterfall hiking trails.  Tower House Historic District includes the Camden House built in 1852 by a Gold Rush prospector, with seasonal tours offered by the NPS (it was temporarily closed in 2019 after the Carr Fire).  You can even pan for gold (with a $1 permit).

Best Trail

Whiskeytown Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Brandy Creek Falls, and Crystal Creek Falls are accessible by hiking a total of 11 miles, but it may take longer depending on your choice of trails and road closures.  The trails are steep and poorly marked in some places.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Whiskeytown Falls is 220 feet tall and is accessible on a 3.4-mile roundtrip trail, but we thought the most photogenic waterfall was Crystal Creek Falls.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Highway 299 on the north side Whiskeytown Lake is paved and accesses Oak Bottom Campground.  Some of the gravel access roads are rough, but passable even with passenger vehicles.

Camping

There are eight campgrounds around the lake, some tent-only, but RVs are allowed at Oak Bottom and Brandy Creek Campgrounds.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve (Oregon)

Explore More – In what year was the Central Valley Project begun that years later formed the 3,200-acre Whiskeytown Lake?

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Overview

On the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Kaloko- Honokōhau National Historical Park was established in 1978, the same year the green sea turtles were federally listed as a threatened species.  This park’s current population of 130 long-term resident juvenile turtles is believed to be a direct result of that protection.  The honus (green sea turtles) are visible both in the clear ocean water and onshore in haul-outs.

Highlights

Honokōhau Beach, ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap, heiau (temple), Kaloko fishpond, green sea turtles

Must-Do Activity

Just like wading humans, green sea turtles are attracted to the shallow, calm waters created by the ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap, an artificial reef built of black lava rock.  Some of these young sea turtles already weigh 140 pounds!  Please refrain from touching or lifting the turtles.  Instead, sit in the sun on a white gravelly beach to watch the methodical paddling of these ancient reptiles on this undeveloped portion of coast on the largest island in the United States.

Best Trail

Visitors cannot park at the beach, instead they have to walk a half-mile one-way, which keeps the numbers down.  Two historic trails go to fishponds in this dry, volcanic landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At Honokōhau Beach, next to the ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap is a reconstructed hālau (long house), a nice spot to take a break in the shade.

Peak Season

Honokōhau beach is popular year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main entrance is off Highway 19, but there is a dirt road that accesses Kaloko fishpond that is gated at night.

Camping

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers a campground, but if you want to camp near the beach look into the state parks and county parks.

Related Sites

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Explore More – What did native Hawaiians use to line their 150-foot long hōlua (stone slide) for racing toboggan-like sleds?

Gateway National Recreation Area

Overview

Approximately 9-million visitors utilize the 26,600 acres of Gateway National Recreation Area annually, ranking it the fourth busiest unit in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  This is not surprising when you consider the number of people that live around New York Harbor.  The park is divided into three units: New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, and New York’s Staten Island and Jamaica Bay.

Highlights

Fort Wadsworth, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Fort Hancock, Floyd Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Must-Do Activity

On Staten Island, tours are offered of Fort Wadsworth, which sits at the base of the beautiful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Long Island.  It was part of the coastal defense system created to protect New York Harbor in the 1800s, which is clearly displayed at the outstanding NPS museum on the cliff above Fort Wadsworth.  In 1913, President William Howard Taft attended a ceremony dedicating the National American Indian Memorial to be built inside the fort, but it never came to fruition because of World War I.

Best Trail

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for birdwatching or watching airplanes take off and land at JFK Airport.  The trail around West Pond takes about an hour to walk and feels worlds away from Manhattan, which is visible on the skyline.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area is located on a spit of sand that sticks out from the New Jersey shoreline.  It offers beaches, tours of Fort Hancock, and a lighthouse that dates back to 1764 (making it the oldest continuously operated one in the U.S.).  For photos of Sandy Hook, check out our fellow National Park blogger Theresa’s website.  Below is one of her excellent photographs of Sandy Hook Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer for the beaches

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for beach parking at Sandy Hook and Jacob Riis Park in Queens (plus toll roads/bridges).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, plus many of the units of Gateway National Recreation Area are accessible by public transportation.

Camping

The NPS offers camping at all three units of Gateway National Recreation Area, so check the NPS website for details.

Related Sites

Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York-New Jersey)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – What famous U.S. coin was first publicly displayed at the 1913 dedication of the National American Indian Memorial at Fort Wadsworth?

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.

Highlights

Smith Falls State Park, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, canoeing

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.  From Cornell Bridge downstream 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.

Best Trail

Pull over in Smith Falls State Park for a short walk to a 63-foot tall waterfall, which is interesting because it pours off a prominent ledge instead of a cut bank.  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.

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 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 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?