Tag Archives: wildlife

Point Reyes National Seashore

Overview

North of San Francisco, California, Point Reyes National Seashore is the only park so designated on the Pacific Coast of the U.S.  Be prepared to get wet as this piece of land located on the San Andreas Fault is frequently enveloped by a fog belt year round.  It might not be the best spot to sunbathe on the beach, but this unique seashore is a great place to watch wildlife.

Highlights

Point Reyes Lighthouse, beaches, Arch Rock, Historic Pierce Point Ranch, Tomales Bay

Must-Do Activity

The main attraction is the Point Reyes Lighthouse, where you can try to spot sea lions and gray whales on their winter migration.  It is 300 steps down to the historic lighthouse, then you have to turn around and climb back up.  Nearby Drakes Beach is off limits in the winter months when elephant seals gather there and you can watch (and listen to) them from an overlook.  The park is popular with road and mountain bikers, and well-protected Tomales Bay attracts kayakers.

Best Trail

An extensive trail system with backcountry campsites (including two near the beach) is best accessed from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.  Plus, you can always walk the 11-mile long Point Reyes Beach.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park has a reintroduced herd of Tule elk near the Historic Pierce Point Ranch on Tomales Point.  If you visit in January, you might find a bull was waiting for his other antler to drop.

Peak Season

Summer, though the weather is pretty much the same year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, except a few short ones that access trailheads.

Camping

There is no campground in Point Reyes National Seashore, but there are backcountry campsites that area available with a permit (reservations available).

Related Sites

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)

Olympic National Park (Washington)

Explore More – How far did the entire Point Reyes Peninsula permanently shift during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake?

Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

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?

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.

Update to Our Guidebook: A Park to Yourself

Since White Sands National Monument was upgraded to the 62nd National Park on December 20, 2019, we decided to update our guidebook to the parks.  If you already bought your copy on Amazon, please find the new page 308 posted below.  White Sands is one of our favorite of the many National Park Service units in New Mexico.  You can read more about the park on this blog

White Sands

New Mexico

148,558 acres

Established 2019

603,008 visitors in 2018

Dunes composed of gypsum make a great destination for snow sledding year round, especially when the sand is wet.  Gypsum readily dissolves in water, but here it forms dunes because no river drains the Tularosa Basin.  Follow markers on the five-mile roundtrip Alkali Flat Trail that goes up and down dunes and provides views of the San Andres Mountains.  Most of the wildlife here is nocturnal, but during the day you may spot bleached earless lizards that evolved to camouflage in the gypsum.  The white dunes take on the colors of the sunset if you attend the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll or backpack camp.  There is no campground and only ten backcountry campsites, and their availability is dependent upon whether the military is conducting missile tests overnight, so call ahead or check the schedule online.  Oliver Lee Memorial State Park offers a full service campground in a beautiful setting south of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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.

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?

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.