Tag Archives: waterfall

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.  The motto on the National Park Service (NPS) signs is “Public Waters, Private Land.”

Highlights

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

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.  The 22-mile section starting from Cornell Bridge 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.  We floated to the portage at dangerous Rocky Ford Rapid at high water in May and encountered only Class I rapids and a few strainers along the shorelines.

Best Trail

Pull off the river around Mile 15 in Smith Falls State Park to take the short boardwalk to a 63-foot tall waterfall.  The waterfalls along these cliffs are interesting because instead of pouring off a cut bank they develop a prominent ledge that grows as the limestone is dissolved and redeposited (like a cave formation).  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.  The refuge also contains the short Fort Falls Trail, which forms a loop with views of a 45-foot tall waterfall.

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 $1 per person 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 private 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?

Yosemite National Park

Overview

Given its 4-million annual visitors, it can be hard to practice social distancing at Yosemite National Park.  In the summer, it can even be difficult to find parking in bustling Yosemite Valley.  The legendary valley is home to El Capitan and Half Dome, rock formations known around the world, as well as countless waterfalls.  For more ideas on what to do during your visit and how to avoid the crowds, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove

Must-Do Activity

When entering Yosemite Valley on Highway 41 from the south, your first sight of the valley is stunning upon emerging from a long tunnel.  You simply have to stop at the iconic Tunnel View parking area.  Although the forest here is denser than in the past, the scene has not changed much since President Lincoln signed the bill to preserve this area in 1864.  While the Yosemite Valley can get incredibly busy during peak tourist season, hike a mile up a trail and you might find a solitary place to enjoy one of the numerous waterfalls.

Best Trail

Formerly a paved tram route, the trail through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees is a major highlight outside Yosemite Valley.  We especially enjoyed snowshoeing there in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From May to November, you can drive up to Glacier Point for great views into Yosemite Valley from the cliffs above.  We chose this overlook for our original logo of Yosemite National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, even the one that goes over 9,945-foot high Tioga Pass, which crosses the Sierra Nevada and is closed in the winter (as is Glacier Point Road, though it remains open to cross-country skiers).

Camping

There are multiple campgrounds within the park and some take reservations, but there are no RV hookups except outside the park.

Related Sites

Sequoia National Park (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (California)

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

Explore More – John Muir wrote extensively about the Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada, but many of his readers do not know he was an immigrant to America; in what country was he born?

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Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

Overview

Not as well-known as the parkway it parallels, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is one of only three National Scenic Trails officially managed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The trace (or trail) started as an American Indian footpath.  Some of the mound builder sites protected here were inhabited when Hernando de Soto led the first Europeans into this area in 1540.  The Natchez Trace was heavily used in the 1800s by “Kaintuck” flatboatmen returning from New Orleans who left the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi and continued on foot north to Nashville, Tennessee.  Today you can follow portions of the “sunken” trail worn down by travelers for centuries.

Highlights

Rocky Springs, Owens Creek Waterfall, Cave Spring, Cypress Swamp, War of 1812 Memorial

Must-Do Activity

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail does not follow the entire 444-mile parkway, but exists in five segments totaling 67 miles in length.  The two longest sections are near Leipers Fork, Tennessee (Miles 408-427) and north of Jackson, Mississippi (Miles 108-130).  There are many other places to go hiking along the Natchez Trace Parkway, including one of our favorite spots, Tishomingo State Park (Mile 304) in Mississippi.  Near Tupelo, the Parkway Visitor Center at Mile 266 is another must-do stop to learn the history of the trace.

Best Trail

There are eight miles of the original trail around the Rocky Springs Campground near Mile 58 in Mississippi, which provides access to Owens Creek Waterfall and a historic town site.

Instagram-worthy Photo

In early April the dogwood trees bloom along the Natchez Trace.  At Mile 275 is Dogwood Valley, which also has a short section of “sunken” historic trail.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The entire 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway is paved from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, but not all trailheads are RV accessible.

Camping

There are three NPS campgrounds along the route, as well as those in sites like Mississippi’s Tishomingo State Park.  The three NPS campgrounds are primitive and free, plus there are also five bike-only campsites along the route.

Related Sites

Tupelo National Battlefield (Mississippi)

Natchez National Historical Park (Mississippi)

Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi)

Explore More – The Natchez Trace Parkway officially joined the NPS system in 1938, but when was construction of the road finally completed?

Haleakala National Park

Overview

On the tropical island of Maui, Haleakalā National Park is accessible by two memorable roads.  One road climbs from sea level up to 10,023 feet overlooking Haleakalā Crater, which has almost no vegetation.  To the east, a lush tropical rainforest thrives in the Kīpahulu District located at the end of the winding road to Hana.  Both districts offer great hiking opportunities and free campgrounds. There is much more information about this park in our National Park guidebook, available on Amazon.

Highlights

Haleakalā Crater, Sliding Sands Trail, Hosmer Grove, ‘Ohe‘o Gulch pools, Waimoku Falls

Must-Do Activity

The thing to do at Haleakalā National Park is drive up the curvy entrance road in the pitch dark to catch a sunrise from 10,000 feet.  Haleakalā translates to “the house of the sun” so it is kind of a big deal here.  It is like a party atmosphere in the chilly air waiting for the guest of honor.  Of course, we were up there one morning, though we thought the sunsets were prettier and much less crowded.  Several tours drive visitors to the summit for sunrise then provide bicycles to coast back down the switchbacks outside the park boundaries.

Best Trail

In the Kīpahulu District, we hiked the two-mile Pipiwai Trail to the 400 foot cascades of Waimoku Falls in a steady downpour.   The trail offers some protection from rain under sprawling banyan trees and incredibly dense bamboo thickets.  Like many of the plant and animal species found throughout Hawai‘i, the banyan and bamboo are not native to the islands, but have thrived on this isolated landmass 2,400 miles from the nearest continent. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Silversword (‘ahinahina) plants grow all along the Sliding Sands Trail that accesses the bottom of the 2,000 foot deep crater.

Peak Season

Year round, though summer might be slightly warmer at 10,000 feet in elevation.

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but the road to the summit is full of switchbacks and bicyclists.  The curvy road to Hana is well known for its one-lane bridges, of which we counted 53 before we reached the Kīpahulu District.

Camping

The two National Park Service campgrounds here are free, a big savings in a place that can be expensive to visit.  There is a lottery for three hike-in cabins and permits available for wilderness backpacking campsites.

Related Sites

Kalaupapa National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

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

Explore More – How much annual precipitation does the Kīpahulu District receive (making it one of the wettest places on Earth)?

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Voyageurs National Park

Overview

Water dominates Voyageurs National Park on the border of Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.  So much so that many of the land formations were never given names by the French fur traders (or “voyageurs”) that navigated these waters beginning in the late-1700s.  It was a hard life, paddling large birch bark canoes full of supplies up to sixteen hours per day.  Today the park is famous for its manmade destinations, including Kettle Falls Hotel, Hoist Bay Resort, and the unique sculptures at Ellsworth Rock Gardens. 

Highlights

Kettle Falls, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Hoist Bay Resort, Kab-Ash Trail

Must-Do Activity

Be sure to get out on the water via a ranger-led tour or take your own boat to one of the shoreline campsites inaccessible by car (permit required).  Reservations can be made for the free ranger-guided North Canoe Voyage that lets passengers paddle a 26-foot canoe, just like the “voyageurs” of old.  For more information, check out our National Park guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Best Trail

There are several short trails that lead from the visitor centers at Rainy Lake and Ash River, in addition to the 28-mile long Kab-Ash Trail that allows backpacking. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

On Namakan Lake, you can explore the remains of Hoist Bay Resort, which was a logging camp before it became a vacation destination.  It feels haunted in the evening, exploring the empty ruins while listening to the eerie calls of common loons.

Peak Season

Summer, but be prepared for bugs.

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for camping frees

Road Conditions

The major access roads to NPS visitor centers are paved, plus in the winter there is a designated 7-mile ice road over Rainy Lake.

Camping

There are 214 boat-in campsites available first-come, first-served with a NPS permit (reservations available).  There are several campgrounds located on the mainland just outside the park boundaries.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

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

Explore More – When did the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company operate at Hoist Bay on Namakan Lake?

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