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Camp Nelson National Monument

Camp Nelson National Monument

Kentucky

Managed by National Park Service

Established 2018

525 acres

Website: nps.gov/cane

Overview

Camp Nelson National Monument occupies 525 acres where a Civil War fort was located 20 miles south of Lexington.  During the war, Kentucky was technically a Union state so the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not apply to the state’s slaves.  Many local slaves were impressed by the U.S. Army to build the camp and their owners were compensated for the work.  In May 1864, when freedom was offered to any black man to join the United States Colored Troops, thousands of escaped slaves brought their families (who were not granted freedom) to this supply depot, which led to numerous conflicts between refugees and Army officials. 

Highlights

Museum, film, Oliver Perry House, barracks, Fort Putnam, Fort Jones, Home for Colored Refugees Site

Must-Do Activity

Unlike many new National Monuments, this one was already developed as the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park so it has a historical museum, hiking trails, and interpretive film (that made our Top 10 list for NPS films).  The Oliver Perry House is the only original structure on site, although a barracks building and the earthworks of Fort Putnam have been reconstructed.  A living history weekend is typically held during the summer in the park, which is adjacent to Camp Nelson National Cemetery (see photos below) where hundreds of Civil War soldiers are buried.

Best Trail

There are four miles of trails in Fort Nelson National Monument with numerous interpretive signs and flags placed to identify the former locations of the bakery, prison, stables, Quartermaster Office, and other structures.  The Fort Jones/Overlook Trail accesses extensive stone revetment walls that provided defenses for the eastern side of Camp Nelson.  There is little shade in this grassy landscape, so come prepared on hot summer afternoons.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Built in 1846, the Oliver Perry House (also called the White House) is the only remaining original structure on site, which served as officers’ quarters.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no campground on site, but there are some nice ones found throughout the Kentucky state parks system and Daniel Boone National Forest (where we recommend Cave Run Lake).

Related Sites

Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)

Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument (Kentucky)

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Explore More – When was Army policy changed at Camp Nelson to allow the families of United States Colored Troops to have a mess hall, school, and housing?

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Alaska

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1918 National Monument, 1980 National Park

3,674,529 acres

Website: nps.gov/katm

Overview

Katmai National Monument was created after the Novarupta Volcano erupted in 1912 (an event recorded in the skinny tree rings grown throughout Alaska that year).  Ash fell in Seattle (1,500 miles away) and piled up to 700 feet deep in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.  The valley is no longer smoking, but it is there are still 15 active volcanoes within the park’s boundaries.  This remote park on the Alaska Peninsula has few roads and is only accessible by airplane (typically equipped with floats for water landings).  Oh yeah, and there are lots of grizzly bears, or brown bears as they are called in coastal areas of Alaska.

Highlights

Brooks Falls, North Arm of Naynek Lake, Hallo Bay, Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Baked Mountain Huts, Savonoski Loop

Must-Do Activity

The grizzly/brown bears of Brooks Falls are celebrities due to the annual Fat Bear Week vote for the chunkiest bear on social media.  Less famous are the bears that hang out around Hallo Bay on the coastline, eating grass and shellfish until the salmon arrive.  Regardless of your destination, flights from road-accessible portions of Alaska (like Homer and Kenai) can be quite costly.  Most of the approximately 50,000 annual visitors come only for a day trip, although there are three expensive lodges and a campground in the park.

Best Trail

Brooks Falls Trail connects the Lower River Bear Viewing Platform 1.2 miles to the Falls and Riffles Platforms at Brooks Falls.  Near the visitor center, the short Cultural Site Trail visits a prehistoric camp and reconstructed dwelling.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Brooks Falls is a world-class destination for wildlife photographers from around the world, so you might want to bring along a camera with a good zoom lens if you pay to get there during the peak months of July and September. This photo is from Scott’s father (see more of his photos and paintings at Bruce Sink.com)

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

The National Park Service does not charge an entry fee, but it is very expensive to fly to Brooks Camp or Hallo Bay.

Road Conditions

There is a 23-mile long road that leads from Brooks Falls to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and a daily eight-hour ranger-guided bus tour is available in the summer.  Backpackers can buy one-way tickets and explore the area, with the Baked Mountain Huts a popular destination 12 miles away across two difficult river crossings.

Camping

There are 60 sites at Brooks Camp Campground (reservations required prior to arrival), which is surrounded by an electric fence to keep bears out.

Related Sites

Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Explore More – How many grizzly/brown bears are estimated to live within Katmai National Park and Preserve?

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Grey Towers National Historic Site

Grey Towers National Historic Site

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service

102 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/greytowers

Overview

The sole National Historic Site managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Grey Towers was the ancestral home of Gifford Pinchot, the agency’s first director and the twice-elected governor of Pennsylvania.  Completed in 1886, the 43-room, L-shaped mansion was built to look like a French château.  After Gifford’s father endowed the nation’s first graduate forestry program at Yale, their summer school was held on the property from 1901 to 1926.

Highlights

Mansion tour, Letter Box, Bait Box, Finger Bowl, Pinchot Timeline Trail

Must-Do Activity

We had just visited the three National Park Service sites in Hyde Park, New York before we stumbled upon this spot while driving to Steamtown National Historic Site, so we opted not to take another guided tour (fee) inside a mansion.  It was a beautiful September day, so instead we enjoyed an hour walking around and photographing the property while stopping to read the numerous interpretive signs.  Our favorite cottage was the Bait Box, a playhouse for Gifford’s son.

Best Trail

There are self-guided interpretive trails around the 102-acre property, including the Pinchot Timeline Trail and Forestry Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Finger Bowl was a unique outdoor dining area where chairs were pulled up to the edge of a pool that had bowls of food floating on its surface.  It sits beneath a beautiful, wisteria-covered arbor.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

The grounds are open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through October and the gates are locked at 4:30 p.m. the rest of the year.  Guided tours (fee) of the home and gardens start every hour on the hour starting at 11 a.m. Thursday through Monday in the summer.

Fees

There is no fee to walk the grounds, but it costs $8 per person to take the tour (50% off with America the Beautiful pass).

Road Conditions

The road to Grey Towers is paved and there is limited handicap parking located much closer to the house than the main parking lot.

Camping

See our blog post on Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for a list of State Parks and State Forests with campgrounds in the area.

Related Sites

Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (New York-Pennsylvania)

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Steamtown National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Shenandoah (Virginia)

Explore More – Gifford’s father regretted the environmental damage done by which industry where he made his fortune?

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Overview

Columbian mammoths grew up to 14 feet in height, much larger than woolly mammoths that reached about 10 feet.  About 65,000 years ago, a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths died in a ravine here due to unknown causes, possibly a flood or drought.  Then about 51,000 years ago, another three mammoths died at the same spot before the onset of a new glacial period.  Many of the fossils have been left in situ within the Dig Shelter, but others are on display at Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex.

Highlights

Dig Shelter tour, Eagle Trail

Must-Do Activity

Established in 2015, this National Monument was already developed for visitors by the city of Waco and Baylor University.  As such, annual America the Beautiful passes provide no discount for the guided tour to the Dig Shelter where the 65,000-year-old Columbian mammoth and camel bones have been excavated.  First discovered in 1978, this dig site has since had a building constructed around it, making it a pleasant place to visit year round.

Best Trail

From the paved Mammoth Trail, there is the short Deer Loop that connects to the longer Eagle Trail.  Located south of Waco Mammoth National Monument, Cameron Park in Waco has trails along the Brazos and Bosque Rivers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Dig Shelter is only viewable on a guided tour (admission charged).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$5 per person for the tour (no discount for America the Beautiful pass)

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Many private campgrounds can be found around Waco, Texas, in addition to six Corps of Engineers campgrounds on Waco Lake that take reservations.

Related Sites

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Explore More – A small tooth was discovered here from a cub of what fearsome Ice Age predator?

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Overview

The Timucuan Indians inhabited northeastern Florida’s coastal wetlands and maritime hammocks when French colonists first arrived in 1562.  The settlers constructed Fort Caroline (a National Memorial established in 1950), which the National Park Service (NPS) administers as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum at Fort Caroline National Memorial, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  Then you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular Fort Caroline based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.

Highlights

Fort Caroline, Kingsley Plantation, Theodore Roosevelt Area

Must-Do Activity

The second place the NPS manages a visitor center is at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island east of Jacksonville, Florida.  Established in 1798, it is the oldest remaining plantation house in Florida.  Slaves here harvested Sea Island cotton, which is still grown in a small garden alongside indigo, another regional cash crop.  Visitors can take a self-guided trail around the property, but tours inside the main plantation house are only offered on weekends and require a reservation.

Best Trail

The 1.5-mile Willie Browne Trail winds through the 600 undeveloped acres at Theodore Roosevelt Area, donated by the trail’s namesake to the Nature Conservancy in 1969.  The Spanish Pond Trail connects this trail with Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tabby walls of 23 of the original 32 slave quarters still stand in a row at Kingsley Plantation. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but the fastest route between Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation is probably via the St. Johns River Ferry.

Camping

The NPS does not have a campground, but nearby Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park all do.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Explore More – Florida had “relatively liberal” racial policies under Spanish rule, but that changed when it became a U.S. territory in what year?