Tag Archives: Virginia

Assateague Island National Seashore

Overview

Assateague Island National Seashore was authorized in 1963, twenty years after neighboring Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect migratory birds, like the greater snow goose.  In combination with Assateague State Park they protect a 37-mile stretch of undeveloped shoreline that crosses the border of Maryland and Virginia (and is very close to Delaware).  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the National Seashore and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the National Wildlife Refuge, but there is also an NPS visitor center at the refuge.

Highlights

Museum, film, Assateague Lighthouse, wildlife, kayaking, swimming, beachcombing

Must-Do Activity

Assateague Island’s most renowned residents are its wild ponies, purported to have swum ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon.  Every year since the 1700s, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company has herded the ponies that live on Assateague Island for an auction to raise funds for firefighting.  This annual event was chronicled in the classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (which made our Top 10 NPS Novels list).  The ponies can often spotted by hikers on the Woodland Trail, a three-mile loop hike.  Nearby there is also a free NASA visitor center at Wallops Flight Facility where they launch rockets.

Best Trail

We mentioned the Woodland Trail above, but this park is all about walking the beach, especially the 10 miles of wild beach only accessible by foot within Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The first Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1833, while the structure seen today was completed in 1867.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The access roads are paved, but with a permit you can drive 13 miles of beach on the Maryland side and five miles on the Virginia side.  It takes about 1.2 hours to drive the highways between the north and south bridges to Assateague Island.

Camping

On the Maryland side, the NPS operates two campgrounds with cold showers, but the one in Assateague State Park offers hot showers.  Two oceanside backpacking camps and four bayside kayak-in camps are also available by permit.

Related Sites

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Not just a safe haven for wild ponies, where in the National Seashore do seahorses anchor to underwater grasses?

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Overview

If you visit Richmond National Battlefield Park in Virginia, do not miss the other National Park Service (NPS) site in that city.  Maggie L. Walker was an African American philanthropist that started the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1902 and was the only female bank president in the U.S. at the time.  As a member of the Independent Order of St. Luke since age 14, she also helped establish a newspaper and department store to help the local African American community.

Highlights

Museum, film, house tour, Jackson Ward National Historic Landmark District

Must-Do Activity

The 1930s-era home of this Civil Rights advocate can only be entered on an NPS ranger guided tour.  Walker lived in the oft-expanded, 28-room house from 1904 until her death thirty years later, and almost every piece of furniture in the house is original.  The NPS visitor center at 600 N 2nd Street is very small, but they do show a short film inside the tiny museum, which provides a good introduction before the tour.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The master bathroom includes a bidet, which is not something we have seen on any of the other NPS house tours we have taken (and we have been on a lot!).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Street parking is required as there is not a designated lot.

Camping

Pocahontas State Park and Forest offers a campground with running water just outside Richmond, Virginia.

Related Sites

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Fort Monroe National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – The Walker family owned the house until the NPS took ownership of the 1.25-acre property in what year?

Booker T. Washington National Monument

Overview

Booker T. Washington was born in 1856 on this small plantation farm in Hardy, Virginia and freed shortly after the Confederate army’s surrender at nearby Appomattox Court House.  He went on to earn an education and found the groundbreaking Tuskegee Institute in 1881.  Rather than dwelling on his horrible past, Washington was inspired to work hard and maintain an indefatigable spirit.  Later in life he wrote in his book Up From Slavery: “There was no period of my life that was devoted to play… From the time that I can remember anything, almost every day of my life has been occupied in some kind of labor.”

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed buildings, farm animals, Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail

Must-Do Activity

A bronze bust of Booker T. Washington is the first thing visitors see when they approach the National Monument.  The National Park Service (NPS) has reconstructed several buildings on the farm in a style consistent with the 1850s, as seen on the quarter-mile self-guided trail.  The NPS keeps livestock similar to that which was here at the time, including pigs, cattle, chickens, turkeys, and ducks.  This site demonstrates that antebellum life in the South was not all aristocrats on large plantations. 

Best Trail

The Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail winds 1.5 miles through the forest and fields.

Instagram-worthy Photo

None of the original buildings survive, but several have been reconstructed, including the birthplace cabin of Booker T. Washington.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Roanoke Mountain Campground is run by the NPS on the Blue Ridge Parkway 19 miles northwest of the monument.

Related Sites

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site (Alabama)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Explore More – Washington graduated from what school for ex-slaves in 1875, which inspired him to establish Tuskegee Institute in Alabama?

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Overview

If the name Appomattox Court House rings a bell, that is because in U.S. History class you learned it was where the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.  There was a courthouse in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, but that is not where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant signed surrender papers; actually it was the home of Wilmer McLean.  In 1893, the McLean house was completely disassembled to be turned into an offsite museum, but was later brought back and rebuilt by the National Park Service (NPS).  The county jail is one of several other restored buildings in the park originally designated a National Monument in 1935 and changed to a National Historical Park in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed McLean House, guided tours

Must-Do Activity

The restored courthouse now serves as the NPS visitor center and museum, from where visitors can start their walk through Meeks General Store, Clover Hill Tavern, the county jail, and other period buildings.  Much of the furniture from the McLean House was taken as souvenirs by Union officers, as well as a doll owned by 7-year-old Lula McLean that was not returned until 1992.

Best Trail

A four-mile hiking trail connects the Village of Appomattox Court House with the April 9, 1865 battlefield and the two General’s headquarters.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You have to take a photo inside the restored room in the McLean house where Lee surrendered his army of 9,000 men, essentially ending the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None in the park, but the campground at Holliday Lake State Park is only 12 miles away.

Related Sites

Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)

Richmond National Battlefield Park (Virginia)

Booker T. Washington National Monument (Virginia)

Explore More – Seven regiments of African American soldiers in the Union Army participated in the Battle of Appomattox Court House; how many men is that?

Richmond National Battlefield Park

Overview

Richmond, Virginia was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, located only 110 miles south of Washington, D.C.  The heavily fortified city repelled Union attacks in 1862 and 1864, but was abandoned following the retreat from Petersburg on April 2, 1865.  Richmond National Battlefield Park is composed of thirteen units connected by an 80-mile driving tour, some of which are only staffed seasonally.  The main National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at Tredegar Iron Works is located near the historic Virginia capitol building and not far from Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site.

Highlights

Tredegar Iron Works, film, Cold Harbor battlefield, Chimborazo Medical Museum

Must-Do Activity

The modern NPS visitor center is located downtown inside the Tredegar Iron Works on the Canal Walk.  During the war, this foundry produced almost 1,100 cannons, as well as armor plating for ironclad gunboats.  Today the stabilized and enclosed remains of Tredegar Iron Works offer three stories of exhibits, including a film and several interactive multimedia displays.  The site of the June 1864 Battle of Cold Harbor has a year-round visitor center northeast of Richmond.  We also highly recommend a stop at the Chimborazo Medical Museum, which covers an often overlooked aspect of a war that claimed 620,000 soldiers’ lives, many from disease.

Best Trail

Short trails help visitors understand the battles at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill, Cold Harbor, Fort Harrison, Fort Brady, Parker’s Battery, and Drewry’s Bluff.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The stabilized brick walls of Tredegar Iron Works are an interesting subject for photographs.  The foundry was protected by its workers from destruction by the retreating Confederate army on April 2, 1865.  This proved important during Reconstruction after the war.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None except for parking at Tredegar Iron Works

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Pocahontas State Park and Forest offers a campground with running water just outside Richmond, Virginia.

Related Sites

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (Virginia)

Fredericksbug and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park (Virginia)

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More –Opened in October 1861, how many sick and wounded soldiers were treated at Chimborazo Hospital (with its 3,000 bed capacity and 20% mortality rate) by the end of the Civil War?