Tag Archives: wildflowers

National Mall

Overview

Part of Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 design for Washington, D.C., his “grand avenue” was not fully realized until the 1900s when a train station was removed to fully open up two miles of grass between the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial.  Today, America’s front lawn is lined with National Park Service (NPS) monuments and Smithsonian museums.  The 2003 Reserve Act declared the National Mall a completed work of civic art and restricted further construction after completion of the World War II Memorial.  However, in 2014 the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial was dedicated at its eastern end.

Highlights

Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Washington Monument, Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, U.S. Capitol

Must-Do Activity

There is no official visitation count kept for the National Mall, but if there was its 24-million annual visitors would make it the number one busiest site in the entire NPS system.  Not far from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he gave his most famous speech in 1963, is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, one of the numerous NPS sites located here.  The National Air and Space Museum is one of several awesome galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, containing Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of Saint Louis, an Apollo Lunar Module, and the original Wright Brothers flyer used in 1903.  There is so much to see and do, you could easily spend more than a week exploring.

Best Trail

One of the greatest overlooks of the National Mall is from the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (part of George Washington Memorial Parkway), located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.  It is a bit of a walk from the National Mall, but the view is especially breathtaking at night.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At some point during your visit, do yourself a favor and come after dark.  It is nicely decorated each December (but you might need a tripod for photographs).

Peak Season

Summer, and also weekends during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March-April)

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

As with most NPS sites in Washington, D.C., it is easier to walk or take the Metro than find parking for your car.

Camping

There are no NPS campgrounds in the Washington, D.C. area, so it might be best to head for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Related Sites

Lincoln Memorial (District of Columbia)

Constitution Gardens (District of Columbia)

Korean War Veterans Memorial (District of Columbia)

Explore More – The Tidal Basin (home to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial) is considered part of the National Mall, so when were the famous cherry trees (a gift from Japan) planted there?

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, Tupelo-Baldcypress Swamp, Grindstone Ford, Witch Dance Horse Trail, 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?

Pinnacles National Park

Overview

California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state, including Alaska.  The newest is Pinnacles National Park, upgraded from a National Monument in 2013.  Rising above the agricultural Salinas Valley, it does have quite a long history, going back even before President Theodore Roosevelt officially recognized its significance in 1908.  The park’s West Entrance is accessible from Highway 101 and the East Entrance is closer to Interstate 5 and the Central Valley.  It is actually faster to hike from one side to another, than to drive two hours around. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Scenic views, talus caves, rock climbing, endangered California condors

Must-Do Activity

In addition to its striking rock spires, the park is known for talus caves, which are tunnels formed by boulders falling and catching between narrow canyon walls.  Flashlights are necessary to navigate through them, although small gaps in the chaotic ceiling often allow shafts of light through in picturesque fashion.  You might spot a bat flying through the caves, which are seasonally closed for their protection.

Best Trail

Mild temperatures make this a park for hiking in all seasons.  Just be sure to hold onto the chains while navigating the Steep and Narrow section of the steep High Peaks Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While you may not see a bat in the talus caves of Pinnacles National Park, it is likely you will spot the nine-foot wingspan of a California condor slicing the blue sky outside the caves.  This is perhaps the most successful of all release sites for this species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is not a road connecting the East and West Entrances, which are about a two-hour drive apart.

Camping

The West Entrance gate is locked every night as it is day use only, but there is a campground that takes reservations at the East Entrance.  No backcountry camping is allowed.

Related Sites

Yosemite National Park (California)

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Sequoia National Park (California)

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

Explore More – Accessible by a nine-mile roundtrip hike with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, how tall is North Chalone Peak?

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.

Muir Woods National Monument

Overview

Named for passionate preservationist and Bay Area resident John Muir, this old-growth forest of coast redwood trees is a world away from the bustle of the city.  Originally established in 1908, the National Monument is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  It is located just south of Point Reyes National Seashore and here you can also access the coastline at nearby Muir Beach.

Highlights

Coast redwood trees, Redwood Creek Trail, Canopy View Trail, Muir Beach

Must-Do Activity

North of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco sprawl gives way to a rugged and idyllic landscape.  The twisty drive over the coastal mountains to 554-acre Muir Woods National Monument is part of the adventure.  There is a café and gift shop, plus the NPS operates a small bookstore, but not a museum at the site.  This small park receives an average of one-million visitors per year, so expect the trails to be crowded on weekends and sunny days.

Best Trail

There are only six miles of trails in the National Monument, but they connect with the extensive system in surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park.  It is often foggy and always shady beneath these massive trees, so it is best to dress in layers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The coast redwoods growing here are more than 250 feet tall, so hike up the aptly named Canopy View Trail to get a birds-eye view.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The winding access road is steep and narrow, so RVs over 35 feet in length are prohibited.

Camping

There are walk-in tent campsites at Mount Tamalpais State Park and backcountry campsites (permit required) at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Related Sites

John Muir National Historic Site (California)

Redwood National and State Parks (California)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)

Explore More – Coast redwood is the tallest species in the world, requiring coastal fog to stay hydrated; how far inland do the trees naturally occur?

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

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.