Tag Archives: wilderness

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – What are the four species of sea turtles that nest on the park’s beaches?

Big Cypress National Preserve

Overview

Big Cypress National Preserve was originally planned to be a part of Everglades National Park (established in 1947), but this wild area to the north did not gain federal protection until 1974.  There are few roads and trails in the 729,000-acre preserve, which makes it ideal habitat for the endangered Florida panther.  The easiest access points are along Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) or the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41).  While many of the “trails” require route-finding and slogging through deep water, there are also designated ATV and canoe trails located throughout the park.

Highlights

Kirby Storter Roadside Park, Big Cypress Bend Trail, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Many of the baldcypress and pond cypress trees that once stood here were logged in the 1930s and 1940s.  At the Kirby Storter Roadside Park, you can still see some large examples of these trees famous for their buttressed boles and root nodules, or “knees,” that stand above the high water level.  We previously reported on these unique deciduous conifers at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, but here they grow right alongside tall palm trees that we typically associate with sandy beaches. 

Best Trail

Many of the trails in the park are underwater and require slogging.  Two exceptions with boardwalks are at Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Big Cypress Bend (technically within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wherever you look, you are likely to spot an alligator or two in this wild section of south Florida.  An extra photo-op can be found at the smallest post office in the United States, a former irrigation pipe shed located in Ochopee, Florida since 1953.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

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

Fees

None (except for off-road vehicle permits)

Road Conditions

Highway 41 and Interstate 75 are paved, but just about every other road in the park is sandy (and/or submerged) and should only be attempted with an ATV or swamp buggy.

Camping

The NPS offers two campgrounds along Highway 41 (there is also one in Collier-Seminole State Park), as well as designated primitive wilderness sites.

Related Sites

Everglades National Park (Florida)

De Soto National Memorial (Florida)

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Explore More – What are the five main habitat types protected within the preserve?

Mojave National Preserve

Overview

Mojave National Preserve is a massive 1.6-million acres of desert bounded by Interstate 15 to the north and Interstate 40 to the south.  Passed by millions of commuters every year, it does not take many miles of driving to leave behind the bustling freeways for a quiet landscape.  Species diversity is high here given its elevation range from 800 to 7,929 feet and its place at the intersection of three deserts: the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran.  Watch for desert tortoises, Mojave rattlesnakes, roadrunners, ravens, kangaroo rats, mountain lions, mule deer, and some of the 1,000 bighorn sheep that reside in the preserve.

Highlights

Kelso Depot, film, Kelso Dunes, Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail, Rings Loop Trail

Must-Do Activity

If you are driving on I-15 between California and Nevada consider entering the preserve via the Cima Road exit, with a first stop at its gas station’s interesting waterfall urinal in the men’s restroom.   From there drive south on a paved road into a dense Joshua tree forest on the gently sloping flanks of the enormous Cima Dome (an extinct volcano) and then stop at Kelso Depot where the National Park Service (NPS) operates a visitor center and museum.  From there you can continue south to the beautiful Kelso Dunes or take the paved Kelbaker Road back to Interstate 15 at Baker, home of the world’s tallest thermometer.

Best Trail

The one-mile Rings Loop Trail has metal rings cemented into its canyon walls in some places to help you ascend and descend steep portions.  Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail and the six-mile Barber Peak Loop Trail are also found in this area near the NPS campgrounds.

Instagram-worthy Photo

We love sand dunes (see our Top 10 list) and one of our favorites is the nearly 700-foot tall Kelso Dunes, which create a booming sound when the sand shifts and moisture conditions are right.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, however, most of the 1,000 miles of roads are unpaved and some of them require a high-clearance vehicle, especially if you want to access neighboring Castle Mountains National Monument.

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed throughout most of the preserve, but there are also NPS campgrounds around the Hole-in-the-Wall Ranger Station.

Related Sites

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

Joshua Tree National Park (California)

Death Valley National Park (California)

Explore More – How many acres of Wilderness are designated within Mojave National Preserve?

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Overview

Off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972 and is only accessible by boat.  While kayaks and private boats are allowed, most visitors arrive by ferry from St. Marys (reservations recommended).  Much of the northern half of the island is designated wilderness with backpacking campsites dispersed near places where freshwater is available for filtration.  Bicycles can be rented once you arrive on the island (they are not allowed on the ferry) and are permitted on the many miles of roads, but not on the trails or beach. 

Highlights

Dungeness Ruins, Ice House Museum, Marsh Boardwalk, First African Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

While it is fun to spend time beachcombing, what really sets Cumberland Island apart are the trails that cut through the maritime forest of twisty live oak trees.  Watch for feral horses, white-tailed deer, armadillos, turkeys, and other birds along the way.  Alligators can also be seen in the freshwater ponds.  Fossilized shark teeth are commonly found on the island, especially on the roads.  Guided tours in vans can be reserved, which can be a good option on rainy days or if you want to make it to the 1890s African-American settlement at the northern end of the island.

Best Trail

The island has more than 50 miles of trails and you can form loops of varying lengths by walking the beach and the inland Parallel Trail.  The trails are very well packed though sandy, and not as hard to walk on as we imagined.  The only deep sand we encountered was on the designated dune crossings between the beach and the inland forest.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dungeness is the name of a mansion built by the Carnegie family that burned down in 1959.  It was constructed atop the ruins of a house of the same name previously owned by Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass, plus the charges for ferry tickets and overnight campsites

Road Conditions

Roads are packed sand and heavily rutted, but unless you own property on the island or take the van tour you will not have to worry about their spine-rattling condition.

Camping

Reservations are required for all overnight stays, including at the privately-owned inn.  Sea Camp offers cold showers and potable water a moderately short walk from the ferry dock.  There are numerous backcountry campsites, but all camping is limited to seven days.

Related Sites

Fort Frederica National Monument (Georgia)

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Related to American Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, and Paso Fino, what is the total population of feral horses living on Cumberland Island?

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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