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.
National Wildlife Refuge, Bucktown
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.
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.
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).
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]
Cadillac Mountain, Precipice Trail, Bass Harbor Head
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
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.
Photographers hang out for hours waiting for sunset on the rocks below Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
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
4,590,493 visitors in 2018
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%)
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honokōhau Beach, ‘Ai‘ōpio fishtrap, heiau (temple), Kaloko fishpond, green sea turtles
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fort Wadsworth, Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Fort Hancock, Floyd
Bennett Field, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
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.
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.
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.