Tag Archives: tour

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Overview

The Shenandoah Valley was the Confederate States of America’s “breadbasket” in the 1860s and thus had strategic importance during the Civil War.  This led to numerous skirmishes and the fight that took place on October 19, 1864 is commemorated at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.  Little of the land within this 3,700-acre park established in 2002 is owned by the federal government, but the National Park Service (NPS) has done a significant amount of work to improve its interpretive signage since our first visit in 2016.

Highlights

Morning Attack Trails, driving tour, Hupp’s Hill Museum, Belle Grove historic plantation

Must-Do Activity

If you need the stamp for your NPS passport, stop at the Visitor Contact Station located in a strip mall in Middletown, Virginia.  There you can pick up a free guide to help you follow the driving tour focused on the October 19, 1864 battle fought at Cedar Creek.  There is also a free app available on the park’s website.  Managed by a non-profit that organizes an annual reenactment of the battle, Hupp’s Hill Civil War Park has a museum (fee).  You can also pay to take a tour of the manor house at Belle Grove.

Best Trail

The Morning Attack Trails are located next to the NPS Headquarters off Highway 11 with interpretive signage placed on the 300-yard long 8th Vermont Monument Trail, 0.6-mile Thomas Brigade Loop, and 0.7-mile Hayes-Ramseur Loop.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Available for guided tours (fee) between April and December, the manor house at Belle Grove plantation dates back to 1797.  Union General Philip Sheridan used the house as his headquarters in 1864 and most of his 31,600 troops camped on the property.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

Admission charged for guided tours of Belle Grove manor house and entrance to Hupp’s Hill Museum.

Road Conditions

Some of the roads on the driving tour are unpaved and not recommended for buses or RVs.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

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

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Belle Grove was owned by Isaac Hite, Jr. and his wife Nelly, who was the sister of which U.S. President?

Kenai Fjords National Park

Overview

Our favorite of the eight National Parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords.  It is a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Boat tours leave from the port of Seward and travel up beautiful Resurrection Bay, a long saltwater-filled valley (or fjord).  The town was named in 1903 for the Secretary of State who purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867 for less than two cents per acre, a move then known as “Seward’s Folly.”  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park accessible by road and is worth the side trip. 

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

Highlights

Exit Glacier, boat tours, tidewater glaciers, marine wildlife

Must-Do Activity

A tour boat is the easiest way to get up close to the variety of marine mammals and seabirds, but hardier souls can kayak the silty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.  Along the route to actively calving Aialik Glacier, you will see an abundance of wildlife: orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, cormorants, and so much more.  Some tour boats have a National Park Service ranger on board to narrate, answer questions, and help kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Tour boats get you close to the action to witness a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean.  These glaciers are one of 32 arms of the massive Harding Ice Field.

Best Trail

It is a short and worthwhile hike from the parking lot to the face of the rapidly receding Exit Glacier; black bears are common in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  You can continue hiking the steep 3.7-mile one-way trail up to 3,500 feet to view the expansive Harding Ice Field, but that requires at least four hours, serious endurance, and gear for the winter conditions that persist year round at that elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bundle up as it gets chilly when you pull up close to the actively calving Aialik Glacier.  You will be tempted to try capturing it all on your camera, but take some time to experience the action with your eyes, not through a viewfinder. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None at Exit Glacier; boat tours cost about $200 per person

Road Conditions

The roads to Exit Glacier and Seward, Alaska are paved.

Camping

Two public-use cabins are available for rent in the summer and only accessible by water.  A free 12-site, walk-in tent campground is available at Exit Glacier, plus a winter-use cabin.  There are multiple RV parks in Seward, Alaska, a beautiful place to spend a few days fishing and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (recommended to do before your boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park).

Related Sites

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

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

Explore More – Who is Rockwell Kent and what is his connection with Resurrection Bay (hint: check out our Top 10 list of Alaska non-fiction books)?

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.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park

Overview

In colonial Louisiana, the word “Creole” referred to any New World product, from architecture to livestock to human beings (and was not specific to any ethnicity).  South of Natchitoches, Louisiana the Cane River National Heritage Area follows an abandoned meander of the Red River, with two antebellum cotton plantations protected as Cane River Creole National Historical Park.  This National Park Service (NPS) site was authorized in 1994 and continues to be developed; meanwhile it provides an interesting perspective on a unique culture and excellent photographic opportunities.

Highlights

Oakland Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, historic buildings, pecan picking

Must-Do Activity

Oakland Plantation dates back to the late 1700s and survived the Civil War intact, but in the wake of Reconstruction tenant farming created a new form of indentured servitude.  Self-guided tours of the site take you through the mule barn, general store, and several cottages.  When we visited in November 2016, park volunteers were only offering one tour per day, but were happy to spend time talking with us inside the old general store.  Slave/tenant quarters are also preserved at Magnolia Plantation downstream, but the main house (which was burned during the Civil War and rebuilt) is privately owned and closed to the public. 

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Nothing says you are in the South like the crooked branches of live oak trees.  Live oaks drape over the bottle-lined garden at the Oakland Plantation main house.

Peak Season

Fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Kisatchie National Forest has a small campground three miles north of Natchitoches off State Road 117.

Related Sites

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Explore More – Cane River National Heritage Area covers 40,000 acres, but how large is Cane River Creole National Historical Park?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Overview

Completed in 1941 after fifteen years of work, this granite outcrop had the 60-foot tall faces of four prominent American presidents blasted and chiseled into its façade.  The mountain is named for a New York attorney who visited the Black Hills to inspect mining claims in 1885.  Sculptor Gutzon Borglum originally carved Thomas Jefferson over George Washington’s right shoulder, but the granite there had flaws and the figure was blasted away.

Highlights

Grand View Terrace, Avenue of Flags, Sculptor’s Studio, Evening Lighting Ceremony

Must-Do Activity

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is inspiring to see during the day, but for the full effect do not miss the Evening Lighting Ceremony offered May to September.  Held in the outdoor amphitheater, this audiovisual presentation is one of the most patriotic events held at a National Park Service (NPS) site. 

Best Trail

Leaving from the Grand View Terrace, the 0.6-mile Presidential Trail forms a loop with 422 stairs that gets closer to the carvings for a unique perspective and access to the Sculptor’s Studio.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you keep a sharp eye, you may spot mountain goats around the park.  Not native to South Dakota, they were introduced to the Black Hills in 1924 and have successfully adapted to their new environment. 

Peak Season

Summer, especially 4th of July weekend

Hours

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

Fees

No admission fee, but there is a $10 parking fee (America the Beautiful Pass not accepted)

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved, but there are size limits on the Norbeck Highway due to tunnels.

Camping

There are campgrounds in Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and Black Hills National Forest.

Related Sites

Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Explore More – In the 1920s, who was the most controversial inclusion of the four presidents featured: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Roosevelt?

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?