Tag Archives: wildlife

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park

Overview

This relatively undeveloped section of Maryland’s Eastern Shore might still be recognizable to Harriet Tubman, who was born here as Araminta “Minty” Ross in 1822.  After her own solo escape to Philadelphia using the Underground Railroad network in 1849, she returned thirteen times to conduct approximately 70 people north, as well as to provide detailed instructions that enabled another 70 to find freedom.  During the Civil War, Tubman served as a Union spy and became the first woman to lead an armed U.S. military assault.

Highlights

Museum, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Bucktown Village Store

Must-Do Activity

Harriet Tubman lived a hard life, as described in the exhibits at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park (museum opened in March 2017), managed in association with the National Park Service.  Pick up a map at the museum, then make as many stops as you wish along the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which offers a free downloadable audio guide.  You will definitely be inspired by the story of this brave conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Best Trail

Near the museum at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see ospreys and overwintering birds. The Key Wallace loop trail is 2.7 miles long.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bucktown Village Store has been restored to its 1800s appearance and is open to visitors.  Harriet Tubman accomplished amazing feats despite suffering seizures throughout her life from a skull fracture suffered at the Bucktown Village Store during her youth (see the photo below for the full story). 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

None, except at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is only $3 per vehicle and accepts America the Beautiful passes.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved on the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the driving route is well-maintained through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 

Camping

There are developed campgrounds at the northern end of Assateague Island National Seashore on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast.

Related Sites

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Explore More – Before it became a National Historical Park, when was Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument established?

Acadia National Park

Overview

Acadia National Park in Maine is famous for its 45 miles of Carriage Roads and watching a sunrise from atop 1,530-foot tall Cadillac Mountain.  We recommend you plan your visit around attending a Star Party to view the night sky through dozens of telescopes.  We visited on a September weekend, and even though it was not yet leaf-peeping season, the main park road across Mount Desert Island was jam packed and parking spaces were difficult to come by.  [This is also one of 50 National Parks covered in our new guidebook]

Highlights

Cadillac Mountain, Precipice Trail, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Must-Do Activity

If you don’t like crowds, then visit on a weekday and avoid Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, Precipice Trailhead, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.  We preferred our time spent on the Schoodic Peninsula with its nice campground and unoccupied overlooks across the bay towards busy Mount Desert Island.

Best Trail

Iron rungs and ladders assist those who wish to climb the aptly named Precipice Trail.  The trail provides awesome Atlantic Ocean views from the cliffs on the way up to Champlain Mountain.  A 2.5-mile loop can be formed when combined with Champlain North Ridge and Orange & Black Trails.  Other “ladder trails” in the park include the Beehive and Perpendicular Trails.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Photographers hang out for hours waiting for sunset on the rocks below Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Most roads paved with the notable exception of the one that summits Schoodic Head.

Camping

There are several campgrounds in the park and we enjoyed our stay in the forested Schoodic Peninsula Campground, which opened in 2016.

Related Sites

Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)

Saint Croix Island International Historic Site (Maine)

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (Vermont)

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

Explore More – What was the original name of this park when it was created on February 26, 1919 (the same day as Grand Canyon National Park)?

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.

Sample Chapter from Our New Guidebook

We wanted to demonstrate how our new guidebook (A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks) is different from this website, so we are providing a sample chapter for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Here is a link to the Raven About The Parks blog post on the park.

The holidays are coming up, so order A Park to Yourself now on Amazon!

39. Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado

265,795 acres

Established 1915

4,590,493 visitors in 2018

Overview

This truly is a National Park for all seasons.  In the summer, it is worth the extra time it takes to drive 11 miles up the unpaved curves of one-way Old Fall River Road to Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet, then back down Trail Ridge Road.  Elk bulls spar and bugle in the autumn, when aspen trees briefly turn the mountainsides gold.  Winter is a wonderful time for outdoor recreation here if you are prepared for the icy conditions, even on a short 1.6-mile trip up to Gem Lake just outside of Estes Park, Colorado.

Peak Visitation Months

July (20%) August (18%) June (16%) September (15%)

Busiest Spots

Bear Lake Trailhead, Alluvial Fan, Alpine Visitor Center, Longs Peak

Worth The Crowds

Bear Lake Trailhead is the busiest area in the park.  Its huge parking lot fills up early year round, but a hiker shuttle is available during the summer.  While the trail starts above 9,000 feet elevation, it is only 1.1 miles with a steady ascent up to stunning Dream Lake ringed by jagged peaks.  From there, you can continue on to Emerald Lake or take the long loop around to Lake Haiyaha and Alberta Falls.  Even in the winter, these trails are generally packed enough that snowshoes are not required.

A Park To Yourself

The western side of the park is generally less busy throughout the year, but even less so in the winter when it is cut off after Trail Ridge Road closes each October.  Snowshoeing past Adams Falls up the East Inlet valley is breathtaking when the snow sparkles in the sun and the river gurgles deep under foot.  There are majestic mountain views once the forest opens up into a spectacular meadow.  Better yet, there is never a fee required to park at the East Inlet or North Inlet Trailheads. 

Iconic Photograph

Around Memorial Day each year, all 48 miles of Trail Ridge Road open to vehicles.  Its high point is at 12,183 feet, the highest elevation reached by a fully-paved road in the United States.  For much of its length, jagged black mountaintops lined in pure white snow surround the visitor on all sides.  Our favorite view is looking southwest towards the Gorge Lakes and Mount Ida from the overlooks at Rock Cut or Forest Canyon parking areas.

Scott’s Favorite Trail

Starting at the small parking lot at Poudre Lake, it is a steady climb five miles one-way to Mount Ida at 12,880 feet.  After a mile, it is less a trail and more following cairns along the Continental Divide.  Needless to say, above timberline there are first-class views of surrounding mountains.  Elk and bighorn sheep are commonly spotted on the route.  From the top you look down on the colorful Gorge Lakes and far across to Trail Ridge Road.

Tiff’s Favorite Trail

The Dunraven Trailhead is in Roosevelt National Forest, northeast of Estes Park.  From there a trail drops to the canyon bottom then follows the North Fork of the Big Thompson River 4.4 miles before it enters the National Park, and backpack camping is allowed without a permit along this length.  The views open up on the Mummy Range before the trail ends around Lost Lake.  You can continue to explore the other lakes past there, but overnight stays in this area require a permit from the National Park Service.

Bonus Winter Trail

In the winter months, the road off Highway 7 to Wild Basin shuts down, but it is still plowed for those entering on foot.  Adding the two mile road length to any hiking distance makes it about eight miles roundtrip to Calypso Cascades, which continues to flow beneath the snow and ice.  Snowshoes are recommended as this trail sees much less use than those around Bear Lake.

Camping

There are multiple campgrounds within the park, but only Glacier Basin is open year round.  Several National Forests surround the park and provide opportunities for dispersed camping, although near Grand Lake it does get crowded during the summer.

Backpacking

Backpacking permits are required and designated sites are reservable, including on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.  You must still pay the National Park entry fee, but there is no additional charge to get a permit to park at the Bowen/Baker Trailhead and camp in the Never Summer Wilderness outside the park boundaries.

Getting Around

Most of the park roads are paved and the two-mile long dirt road to Wild Basin Trailhead is well-maintained.  A hiker shuttle operates from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in the summer.  Old Fall River Road typically does not open until July, but this 11-mile long one-way dirt road makes a great loop when connected with Trail Ridge Road (open late-May to October). 

Nearby Public Lands

There are no National Park Service units near this park, but it does border Arapaho National Recreation Area on the west side.  If you are flying in or out of Denver International Airport, a short detour from Interstate 70 takes you to Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, which contains bison, white-tailed deer, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and other animals.

Insider Tip

Estes Park is the gateway town to the eastern portion of the park.  There are often elk grazing in its neighborhoods and golf courses.  While there, we recommend the ghost tour of the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining.

Wildlife

In the summer, most of the elk herds head to high elevation, but other times of year they walk through the town of Estes Park and congregate near the eastern entrance stations.  Rock Cut is a great spot to watch the spastic wanderings of yellow-bellied marmots and American pikas.  Mule deer are found throughout the park, but moose are more common on the west side.  We commonly see bighorn sheep on Highway 34 through Big Thompson Canyon, but have never spotted one within the park, even at Sheep Lakes where they come to lick salt.

Journal Entry

March 2013

We never thought we would have an entire National Park campground to ourselves, but that is exactly what we found at Timber Creek one beautiful March weekend.  The ranger could not recall the last campers they had stayed there and it took some work to excavate a site from almost three feet of snow, but it was worth it.  Sitting around the campfire that night, the silence was palpable until abruptly pierced by the eerie cries of coyotes that echoed up the valley.  Snow camping is not for the faint of heart, but with proper planning we were well prepared for the 15°F temperatures that met us in the morning.  On a clear day, the winter scenery in the Rocky Mountains is unsurpassed. 

If you enjoyed reading this chapter, you can find all 50 chapters in our first National Parks guidebook!

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Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Overview

On the west coast of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, Kaloko- Honokōhau National Historical Park was established in 1978, the same year the green sea turtles were federally listed as a threatened species.  This park’s current population of 130 long-term resident juvenile turtles is believed to be a direct result of that protection.  The honus (green sea turtles) are visible both in the clear ocean water and onshore in haul-outs.

Highlights

Honokōhau Beach, ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap, heiau (temple), Kaloko fishpond, green sea turtles

Must-Do Activity

Just like wading humans, green sea turtles are attracted to the shallow, calm waters created by the ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap, an artificial reef built of black lava rock.  Some of these young sea turtles already weigh 140 pounds!  Please refrain from touching or lifting the turtles.  Instead, sit in the sun on a white gravelly beach to watch the methodical paddling of these ancient reptiles on this undeveloped portion of coast on the largest island in the United States.

Best Trail

Visitors cannot park at the beach, instead they have to walk a half-mile one-way, which keeps the numbers down.  Two historic trails go to fishponds in this dry, volcanic landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

At Honokōhau Beach, next to the ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap is a reconstructed hālau (long house), a nice spot to take a break in the shade.

Peak Season

Honokōhau beach is popular year round.

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main entrance is off Highway 19, but there is a dirt road that accesses Kaloko fishpond that is gated at night.

Camping

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park offers a campground, but if you want to camp near the beach look into the state parks and county parks.

Related Sites

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site (Hawai‘i)

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Explore More – What did native Hawaiians use to line their 150-foot long hōlua (stone slide) for racing toboggan-like sleds?

Gateway National Recreation Area

Overview

Approximately 9-million visitors utilize the 26,600 acres of Gateway National Recreation Area annually, ranking it the fourth busiest unit in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  This is not surprising when you consider the number of people that live around New York Harbor.  The park is divided into three units: New Jersey’s Sandy Hook, and New York’s Staten Island and Jamaica Bay.

Highlights

Fort Wadsworth, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Fort Hancock, Floyd Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Must-Do Activity

On Staten Island, tours are offered of Fort Wadsworth, which sits at the base of the beautiful Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Long Island.  It was part of the coastal defense system created to protect New York Harbor in the 1800s, which is clearly displayed at the outstanding NPS museum on the cliff above Fort Wadsworth.  In 1913, President William Howard Taft attended a ceremony dedicating the National American Indian Memorial to be built inside the fort, but it never came to fruition because of World War I.

Best Trail

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a great spot for birdwatching or watching airplanes take off and land at JFK Airport.  The trail around West Pond takes about an hour to walk and feels worlds away from Manhattan, which is visible on the skyline.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area is located on a spit of sand that sticks out from the New Jersey shoreline.  It offers beaches, tours of Fort Hancock, and a lighthouse that dates back to 1764 (making it the oldest continuously operated one in the U.S.).  For photos of Sandy Hook, check out our fellow National Park blogger Theresa’s website.  Below is one of her excellent photographs of Sandy Hook Lighthouse.

Peak Season

Summer for the beaches

Hours

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

Fees

None, except for beach parking at Sandy Hook and Jacob Riis Park in Queens (plus toll roads/bridges).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, plus many of the units of Gateway National Recreation Area are accessible by public transportation.

Camping

The NPS offers camping at all three units of Gateway National Recreation Area, so check the NPS website for details.

Related Sites

Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York-New Jersey)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Thomas Edison National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Explore More – What famous U.S. coin was first publicly displayed at the 1913 dedication of the National American Indian Memorial at Fort Wadsworth?