Tag Archives: Virginia

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Overview

Robert Harper started ferrying folks across the Potomac River at this site in 1747.  It had a strategic location at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where the point of what is now the state of West Virginia meets the border of Maryland and Virginia.  Harpers Ferry is most famous for the 1859 raid led by abolitionist John Brown of Kansas in attempt to seize the federal armory to incite a slave rebellion.  His trial and execution for treason helped foment the Civil War, during which conflict the town changed hands between the two sides an astounding eight times!

Highlights

Historic buildings, museums, Jefferson Rock, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A portion of the town today is run as a series of museums by the National Park Service (NPS), though other parts remain open for business as restaurants, shops, and inns.  Parking is limited in town, so the NPS runs a shuttle (free with parking fee) two miles from their visitor center.

Best Trail

You can hike into town on the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail that cuts right through the buildings and over the footbridge across the Potomac River.

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Jefferson Rock is located just up the hill from town, named for Thomas Jefferson who visited in 1783.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$20 to park at NPS visitor center or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There is limited parking in town so it is easier to take a shuttle from the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are multiple private campgrounds in the area, as well as Maryland’s Gambrill State Park.

Related Sites

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)

Explore More – Which famous member of the Corps of Discovery visited the national armory in Harpers Ferry in 1803 before heading to the Pacific Ocean?

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Overview

As one of the easiest crossings of the Alleghany Mountains, Cumberland Gap saw steady foot traffic from 1775 to 1810 as American settlers moved west then sent their trade goods and livestock east.  It later became the corner where the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia all converge.  Today there is a tunnel on Highway 25E, maintaining the park’s quiet and its appearance of centuries ago. 

Highlights

Pinnacle Overlook, Tri-State Peak, Wilderness Road Trail, Hensley Settlement, Gap Cave

Must-Do Activity

All visitors will want to drive the steep four-mile long Pinnacle Road, along which trailheads lead to scenic overlooks and earthen forts dating to the 1860s.  Reservations are recommended if you want to take a tour of the Hensley Settlement or Gap Cave, which typically sell out.  Even if you cannot make it on a tour, there are 85 miles of shady trails through the park’s 24,000 acres of forest to make your visit worthwhile.

Best Trail

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park you can follow in the footsteps of salt-seeking bison, Shawnee and Cherokee warriors, hundreds of thousands of pioneers, and Civil War soldiers from both sides.  Hike the Wilderness Road Trail to the saddle of the official Cumberland Gap, which is marked by a sign.  You will also pass the same Indian Rock that was seen by frontiersman Daniel Boone when he helped blaze the Wilderness Trail in 1775.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You can see parts of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee from Pinnacle Overlook at 2,440 feet in elevation.  With its commanding views, you can see why both sides found the Cumberland Gap strategic during the Civil War.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for the separate tours of Hensley Settlement and Gap Cave (reservations recommended).

Road Conditions

The four-mile long road up to Pinnacle Overlook is paved but steep enough to be closed to all trailers and vehicles over 20 feet in length.

Camping

The park’s Wilderness Road Campground is large and open year round.  Free permits are available for backcountry campsites.  Black bears are common in the park, so proper food storage is required.

Related Sites

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the Virginian who first “discovered” and named the Cumberland Gap in 1750?

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Colonial National Historical Park

Overview

Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia are linked by the 23-mile Colonial Parkway, which passes through the well-known tourist attraction of Colonial Williamsburg.  After the colony of Fort Raleigh proved a disaster, it was not until 1607 that the first successful English settlement was founded at Jamestown, Virginia.  On October 18, 1781, General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his British troops at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.  Though it was more than two years before a peace settlement was reached and General George Washington was able to march back into New York City, from where he retreated in 1776. 

Highlights

Historic structures, Voorhees Archaearium, glass blowing demonstrations, French ship replica, cannons, historic trails, Yorktown Victory Monument

Must-Do Activity

Remember back in 1777 in the aftermath of the battles of Saratoga when the French said they would help kick the British out of the 13 colonies?  Well, not much happened until nearly four years later when Admiral de Grasse defeated the British fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  The ships were unable to resupply General Charles Cornwallis’ troops at Yorktown, who then faced a siege by the combined American and French forces.  Inside the National Park Service visitor center at Yorktown is a replica of a French ship that you can walk aboard without getting seasick.  It also has a replica of General George Washington’s battlefield tent.  Outside, cannons abound along the auto tour.

Best Trail

Five miles of trails wind through Old Towne and New Towne in Jamestown, Virginia.  There is an entry fee charged, since most of this section of the park is run by the non-profit organization Preservation Virginia.  This includes admission to the excellent Voorhees Archaearium, a museum built atop the foundation of the historic statehouse.  Do not miss the reproduction glassblowing house.  This area also contains portions of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary War National Historic Trail and Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The original 1607 James Fort was triangular in shape and, of course, had cannons facing the James River.

Peak Season

Summer, though it can be muggy

Hours

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

Fees

Visiting Yorktown is $10 per person or free with the America the Beautiful pass, but entering Jamestown requires a payment of $20 per person or $5 per person with the America the Beautiful pass.  There is a separate entry fee for nearby Jamestowne Settlement living history museum , but it is free to walk the streets of Colonial Williamsburg (more info on our other travel blog).

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no camping permitted within the park, but several private campgrounds can be found in the area, as well as numerous hotels since you will probably want to spend more than a day given the park’s proximity to Colonial Williamsburg.

Explore More – When an “ill” General Cornwallis sent his second-in-command to formally surrender his 8,000 troops, General George Washington was insulted and deferred the honor of accepting to whom?

Shenandoah National Park

Overview

At one time Shenandoah National Park was entirely private owned, then in the 1930s the government of Virginia went about “procuring” the land for a grand National Park in the east.  These mountains are renowned for their colorful fall foliage, which peaks in October, when 18% of annual visitors arrive.  If you are looking to avoid traffic in a park only 70 miles from Washington, D.C., we recommend coming in February when almost every park amenity is closed.

Highlights

Skyline Drive, Stony Man, Limberlost Trail, Dark Hollow Falls, Rapidan Camp, Old Rag Mountain

Must-Do Activity

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to form the backbone of this narrow National Park.  Driving at the posted 35 mile-per-hour speed limit, it takes 3 hours to drive in its entirety if you do not stop once.  But with 75 overlooks and 513 miles of trails to choose from, who would want to do that?  Skyline Drive is paralleled by 101 miles of the famous 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Best Trail

The trailhead for Old Rag Mountain is located east of the park off Highway 231 (not Skyline Drive), but it is the most popular hike.  The challenging route over slick rock faces and narrow corridors provides wonderful views of the ridgeline that comprises Shenandoah National Park.  Due to the number of hikers, it is recommended you complete a 7.1-mile loop by connecting Ridge Trail with Saddle Trail. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Throughout the park there are numerous trails to waterfalls, though some may run dry in the summer.  The shortest hike, at 1.4 miles roundtrip, leads to 70-foot tall Dark Hollow Falls. 

Peak Season

Summer, plus mid-October for fall foliage

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The park’s paved backbone Skyline Drive is occasionally closed after major snowstorms.  Located at Mile 32 (measured from Port Royal, Virginia in the north), the 670-foot long Mary’s Rock Tunnel allows a maximum vehicle height of 12 feet, 8 inches.

Camping

There are four seasonal campgrounds located along Skyline Drive and backpacking is allowed with a free permit.  West of the Shenandoah River Valley, George Washington National Forest also provides camping opportunities.

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

Explore More – What percentage of the 199,218 acres in Shenandoah National Park is designated Wilderness?

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Fort Monroe National Monument

Overview

At the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay near Yorktown, Virginia, there is a brick fort so large it puts all others to shame.  It was held throughout the Civil War by the Union Army, hosting President Lincoln multiple times and providing a refuge for escaped slaves.  Following the War Between the States it served as a prison for Confederate President Jefferson Davis (his cell is contained within the Casemate Museum).  The fort was not decommissioned by the military until 2011 when it was declared Fort Monroe National Monument, though it still contains private residences.

Tiff with the moat that you could drive over!

Highlights

Casemate Museum, Building #50, moat you can drive over

Must-Do Activity

After you visit the Casemate Museum, walk around the ramparts and the parade ground with its countless live oak trees, including the 500-year-old Algernourne Oak.  Nearby Outlook Beach is popular for swimming, as is North Beach which is also part of the National Monument.

Best Trail

There is a self-guided walking tour that passes Building #50 (the house President Lincoln stayed in) and the Algernourne Oak.  Watch for traffic when you cross the moat through the East Gate.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The author Edgar Allen Poe served here in 1828, so you can pose with him and his raven inside the Casemate Museum.

Monroe

Peak Season

Open year round, though the summertime brings more tourists to the Yorktown Peninsula.

Hours

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

Fees

None to walk the grounds and even the Casemate Museum is now free ($3 for guided tours).

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but be aware that most moat-crossing bridges are only one lane wide.

Camping

None in the monument which is filled with private homes, but there are several private campgrounds in the area.

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Drive across the moat to enter the fort.

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Flagstaff Bastion Overlook offers great views of Fort Monroe and the coastline.

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Inside the Casemate Museum.

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Scott with a house that Lincoln stayed at when he was visiting the fort
Building #50 housed Abraham Lincoln during his stays at Fort Monroe during the Civil War.

Tiff with the historic fort church
Live oak trees line the extensive Parade Ground inside Fort Monroe National Monument.

Explore More – The fort was completed in 1834 under the supervision of which famous Civil War General (then a Lieutenant)?