Tag Archives: wildflowers

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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Badlands National Park

Overview

Badlands National Park is known for its fossils, but not all of the mammals here are extinct.  Bison and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park, in addition to common prairie residents that include pronghorn, mule deer, prairie dogs, and coyotes.

Highlights

Door Trail, Notch Trail, Conata Basin, Sage Creek Road

Must-Do Activity

Driving the dirt road back to the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground, you will likely encounter a roaming bison herd and several prairie dog towns.  Bighorn sheep and pronghorn can also be found near the road.

Best Trail

The Notch Trail is only 1.5 miles in and out, but is an adventure with a large ladder, badlands, cliffs, and an excellent overlook at the end.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bighorn sheep, many with large curling horns, seem to pose atop the badlands formations, especially around the Pinnacles Overlook.

A big horn sheep in Badlands National Park

Peak Season

Summer, but we prefer the fall when it is less crowded, especially in Sage Creek Primitive Campground.

Hours

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

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Badlands Loop Road is paved, and Sage Creek Road and Conata Road are both graded and passable to all vehicles.  Sheep Mountain Table Road in the Stronghold Unit may be more difficult when wet, but otherwise does not require four-wheel drive as designated on the park map.

Camping

Cedar Pass Campground has RV sites and the free Sage Creek Primitive Campground is located down a good dirt road on the west side of the park. Backpacking is free and only requires registration at the trailhead.


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

Explore More – How many endangered black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the park in 1994?

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.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Overview

The tallgrass prairie formerly covered 170-million acres of North America, but today only 4% of that exists in a few isolated pockets due to conversion to agriculture.  The Flint Hills of eastern Kansas were too rocky for tilling, so this was an ideal place to create Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996.  Occasionally, land managers utilize fire to support fire-adapted native grasses against invasive species. Before our visit in November 2014, large areas were burned.  The bison that live here enjoy eating the fresh green grass that sprouts following a fire and wildflowers thrive with the release of available soil nutrients.

Echo at Tallgrass Prairie

Highlights

Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd

Must-Do Activity

After reading the interpretive panels at the visitor center, walk around the buildings next door at the historic Spring Hill Ranch.  The 1881 ranch house is open for tours seasonally.

Best Trail

There are many trails that wander through the 10,894-acre preserve that is jointly run by the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service.  Many loop options are possible, but no backpacking is allowed, possibly due to the bison herd.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just down the road from Spring Hill Ranch is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School which was open from 1884 to 1930.  Its walls are made of local limestone.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Chase State Fishing Lake has 10 primitive campsites two miles outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds surround Council Grove Lake, which is located 20 miles north.

Explore More – At first the grasslands may all look the same, but how many species of plants are found within Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve?

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Overview

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a red rock badlands full of hoodoos situated at the edge of the Markagunt Plateau and only open during the summer due to its elevation above 10,000 feet.  Its colorful limestone amphitheater is like a miniature Bryce Canyon National Park without all the interior trails.

Highlights

Chessman Ridge Overlook, Point Supreme, Ramparts Trail, Spectra Point

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center is open late May through October.  From there the short trail to Point Supreme and the longer Ramparts Trail lead to stunning overlooks of the amphitheater.  Also stop at Sunset View, Chessman Ridge Overlook, and North View on Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive.

Best Trail

At 10,000 feet in elevation this is no place to try anything too strenuous.  Walk the flat one-mile Ramparts Trail to Spectra Point and stop at the many great overlooks along the way while enjoying the riotous summer wildflowers and gnarly bristlecone pine trees (some believed to be more than 1,600 years old).

Instagram-worthy Photo

On our visit in July, we saw columbine, blue bells, larkspur, Indian paintbrush, elkweed, lupine, wild rose, fireweed, and cow parsnip; many of the same species that grow along the coast of Alaska. 

Peak Season

Summer, though snowmobilers and cross-country skiers can access the park during the winter.

Hours

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

Fees

$7 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The paved Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive remains open until snow closes it usually by November.

Camping

The park contains Point Supreme Campground with 30 spaces and running water from June through September.  The surrounding Dixie National Forest also offers campgrounds and free dispersed camping.

Explore More – What is the name of the trail outside the monument’s boundaries that drops 2,500 to the bottom of the amphitheater?