On March 1, 1872 an act of Congress created Yellowstone National Park, the first such park of its kind in the world, in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming. Over three decades later on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act that created the National Park Service. At the time there were 35 national parks and monuments that came under the jurisdiction of the new agency; today there are 417.
But there are actually more than that managed or maintained by the National Park Service. In addition to the 417 “core” sites of the NPS there are an additional 146 related areas including affiliate areas, national heritage areas, national scenic trails, and national wild & scenic rivers. This is a complete list by state of all these sites.
This list is also a bit of a travel bucket list. You will notice a checkbox in front of each entry; if that box is checked it means I have visited, and if the title is a link it means I have written about that NPS site.
Enjoy the list and I hope this might inspire you to visit a few (or all) of the National Park Service sites for yourself!
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (website)
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the country for a good reason: millions of people live within a three hour drive of it. But it’s also because the national park has some beautiful scenic overlooks, exciting trails, old historic buildings, and provides that much needed escape from urban life to nature. It’s also a park the continues to give me something new every time I visit.
Road trips are more than just a passion and career; they are a way of life for me. With the 2018 Travel Blog Exchange fast approaching I decided it would be more fun to road trip to New York rather than drive straight there. For three weeks I traveled across the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina enjoying breathtaking scenic overlooks, discovering hidden destinations, learning about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and watching planes land directly over my head.
The #RoadtoTBEX was a three-week road trip from Cherokee, North Carolina to Corning, New York that included a visit to six National Park Service (NPS) sites. But I didn’t realize that was the theme until I was rolling into Corning, facing the end of the road trip, and asking myself, “How do I tell the story about this trip?”
So here are a few photos and a few stories from the six NPS sites I visited on the #RoadtoTBEX.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The #RoadtoTBEX began with at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For the next five days I drove the entire 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia to the northern end at Rockfish Gap in Waynesboro.
I stopped at just about every scenic overlook on the Parkway and discovered some new places to admire the beautiful landscape. At Linville Falls, the most popular waterfall on the Parkway, I found Dugger’s Creek Falls that is too frequently passed over. At Craggy Gardens I finally hiked the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, completing my experience at one of the most gorgeous places on the Parkway. In Roanoke I stood on Mill Mountain just beneath the infamous Mill Mountain Star and watched the lights of the city twinkle at dusk.
I visited the highest point on the Parkway at Richland Balsalm and a few days later the lowest point at the James River. Every evening I scouted out a location to watch stunning sunsets and every morning I came back for more. I took a tour of the top floor of Flat Top Manor (Parkway Craft Center) and hiked around the lake at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. And I spent my last evening at Ravens Roost Overlook for one final Blue Ridge Parkway sunset before finally leaving “America’s Drive” behind and finishing the entire Parkway for the second time.
TOP: Sunset from Mount Pisgah Overlook on my first night on the Blue Ridge Parkway. MIDDLE: The unbelievable views from Craggy Pinnacle. BOTTOM: The lights of Roanoke from Mill Mountain.
Shenandoah National Park
Two years ago I spent a single day driving through Shenandoah National Park. It was overcast and chilly, but the fall colors were just beginning, and I have been thinking about the Skyline Drive ever since. When planning the #RoadtoTBEX I decided to take advantage of the seven-day pass at the national park and really explore it this time.
For the first two days I visited every scenic overlook in the park. With a 35mph speed limit and 105 miles to drive it took some time but I got it done with time to spare. I spent each night at a different campground in the park where I found myself surrounded by deer foraging for food and pleasant breezes through the towering trees all night.
On the last day I headed out on some trails, but my goal to do some serious hiking was ultimately curtailed by a series of severe thunderstorms. I had only been walking across Big Meadow for ten minutes when a storm broke over the ridge and dumped an insane amount of rain. Do you know how hard it is to run in wet flip flops? Despite the weather I was still able to hike some short trails, spot lots of wildlife, and enjoyed some pretty good meals from the waysides. Those three days were great; next time I want a week.
TOP: Macro photo of a bee on a wildflower. MIDDLE: Ridges for miles from almost every scenic overlook in the park. BOTTOM: The sun broke through the heavy clouds for just three minutes and I was ready for the moment!
Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park
After finally leaving Shenandoah National Park behind I drove over to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park. This was the first time I have come across an NPS site with the visitor center located inside a shopping center. It was a rather nice visitor center with a diorama, film about the history of the park, and a small museum.
The national historical park didn’t have much to offer in the way of scenic overlooks or hiking trails, but there was Belle Grove Plantation. Operated separately from the NPS the plantation was open to guided tours so I headed straight there once I got into the park. The tour lasted about an hour and covered the history of the plantation, the family who built it, and the significance of this park to the Civil War and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
Belle Grove Plantation inside the national historical park.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
This was one of the many unscheduled stops I made along the #RoadtoTBEX. My original plan was to drive historic US Route 50 from Winchester to Alexendria. It was a great plan except for one small problem: it was Labor Day and most of the small towns were vacated for the holiday.
I rolled into the visitor center parking lot about 3pm. It wasn’t a terrible amount of time to explore the park for the first time, especially since the sweltering 100+ degree weather meant I didn’t want to be far from the comfort of air conditioning.
Before the end of the business day in the park I visited the Stone House for a guided tour and Brawner Farm for a fascinating interactive diorama depicting the Second Battle of Manassas. Once the rangers called it a day I continued to explore the self-guided auto tour through the park and even ventured out onto a few trails.
TOP: View from inside the Henry House. MIDDLE: The Stone House at Manassas National Battlefield Park. BOTTOM: There were many views like this around the park’s auto tour route.
George Washington Memorial Parkway
After driving the 25-mile George Washington Memorial Parkway I realized I had driven three of the four parkways of the National Park System this year alone (I drove the Natchez Trace Parkway in the spring and the Blue Ridge Parkway just two weeks ago). That’s not bad at all for some NPS travel this year.
The GW Parkway stretches from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, through the city of Alexandria, to a connection with I-495. The scenic drive along the banks of the Potomac River is nice to enjoy and there are several parks with picnic tables and trails, but really it’s a fast commuter route for the massive amount of people who move around the Northern Virginia area every day.
My two favorite spots I found on the GW Parkway were Jones Point and Gravely Point. Jones Point is right at the edge of Alexandria and features a short hiking trail to a lighthouse that used to direct sailing vessels into the docks just up the river. Gravely Point is one of my favorite places to visit in the country. The park is located at the end of the runway at Reagan National Airport; airplanes will fly in over the Potomac River, bank at the last moment to align with the runway, and scream just a hundred feet over the park before landing. It’s noisy, but absolutely fascinating to watch.
TOP: The literal lighthouse (the light is hidden above the roofline) at Jones Point. BOTTOM: A plane lands over Gravely Point.
Gettysburg National Military Park
On my first-ever big road trip I spent a grand total of two hours here before sunset and moving on. This was back before I created one of my Three Golden Rules of Road Trips: drive no more than a hundred miles per day. I’ve slowed down since then which is exactly why I had two entire days to spend here on the #RoadtoTBEX.
Over the next two days I spent a lot of time at the visitor center. I watched the 25-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman, learned what a cyclorama was and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and browsed through the largest Civil War museum I’ve seen yet. I got something to eat at the café one day for lunch, enjoyed coffee the next morning, and chatted with the rangers about the park.
Out in the park I drove the self-guided auto tour several times looking for the best photo ops and most interesting history. I found both on Small Round Top with a stunning panorama view above the battlefield and a neat story to go along with it. I climbed to the top of an enormous observation tower, walked a few short trails, and explored the boulders at Devil’s Den. Each evening I watched thunderstorms roll across the flat landscape and drench the fields and each morning a fog rolled over Seminary Ridge.
The #RoadtoTBEX included history, scenic overlooks, outdoor recreation, and fascinating destinations while I learned stories from locals and docents about these areas. These six national park sites were a unifying theme of my road trip, but not exclusively all I did. For that you will just have to keep following along as I talk more about all my discoveries on the #RoadtoTBEX.
TOP: A statue on Small Round TOP overlooking the battlefield. MIDDLE: One of the many foggy mornings at Gettysburg. BOTTOM: A fleeting sunset on an otherwise overcast evening on the battlefield.
It’s not often I find myself standing above birds soaring through the air but that is exactly where I was at the Upper Overlook on Craggy Pinnacle. Standing behind a knee-high stone wall I took in the sweeping panorama view and sighed deeply. This was my favorite overlook on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
Craggy Gardens is located at Milepost 364 about thirty minutes from Asheville, North Carolina. The “gardens” are in fact Catawba rhododendron that bloom a spectacular pink around June each year. Because of Craggy Gardens’ proximity to Asheville it’s a popular and often crowded place to visit, but fortunately there are three different ways to enjoy some time here.
TOP: The visitor center with a view of Craggy Pinnacle rising in the background. BOTTOM: A sunset view from the parking lot beside the visitor center, no hiking necessary!
Craggy Gardens Visitor Center
The visitor center is located just off the Parkway in the “middle” of Craggy Gardens. The small one-room building usually has one or two volunteers offering maps and information (during the Parkway’s in-season) and a gift shop with clothing, drinkware, books, and souvenirs.
The restrooms here are located down a flight of stone stairs in the basement of the visitor center and, unfortunately, are not handicap accessible. However the restrooms at the nearby Craggy Gardens Picnic Area are accessible.
One evening in August I rolled into Craggy Gardens too late to hike to Craggy Pinnacle as I had planned so instead I joined several other couples in the parking lot beside the visitor center. On either side of the visitor center a low stone wall provides an excellent place to sit and enjoy the panorama view looking west. In the distance I could see I-26 winding through the mountain pass heading toward Tennessee.
Since I was too late to climb the Pinnacle before sunset I decided to set up my camera gear here. It’s the easiest way to enjoy the views at Craggy Gardens that requires little more than getting out of your car (and really you could enjoy the view from inside your car). No sooner had I set up my cameras on tripods than a couple walked over and plopped down some folding chairs and another couple swung their tailgate down. It was turning into a rather nice sunset viewing party!
TOP: A path meanders across Craggy Knob. BOTTOM: A butterfly on one of the hundreds of blooming wildflowers on Craggy Knob in August.
From the south end of the parking lot the Craggy Gardens Trail ascends the gentle slope of Craggy Knob through a thick rhododendron forest. The short 0.3-mile hike leads to a large covered shelter. A short spur trail to the left leads to the summit of the mostly-bald Craggy Knob, while continuing straight leads to the picnic area.
I hiked this trail the second time I visited Craggy Gardens. It was just a few days after my first visit in late August; while the rhododendrons were no longer in bloom there were hundreds of wildflowers scattered everywhere. A narrow footpath meandered through knee-high wavy grass and past the occasional tree.
The views were pretty amazing. In all directions I could see mountains trailing off to the horizon. Butterflies fluttered from bloom to bloom. The wide open space meant even a moderate number of hikers would still feel uncrowded. Then I caught sight of Craggy Pinnacle in the distance with tiny dots moving across the exposed outcropping. Next time, I told myself.
TOP: The view from the Upper Overlook on the summit of Craggy Pinnacle. BOTTOM: Craggy Pinnacle is the perfect place to have great conversations with friends, or even new friends!
Next time came about two years later. While working on driving the entire Blue Ridge Parkway for the second time I was determined to complete my experience at Craggy Gardens. I left the visitor center behind, drove through the Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel, and snagged a space at the parking lot on the other side. Tightening up my shoelaces and cinching down my photography backpack I was ready for the hike.
The 0.7-mile hike ascends about 230′ on a somewhat rocky trail. It’s not exactly strenuous, but I often found myself climbing across large, jagged rocks on the trail. The thick rhododendron provided a comfortable shade even on the sunniest of days. Near the very top the trail split; to the left was the Upper Overlook and the right the Lower Overlook.
The moment I stepped out onto the stone overlook I knew I had found my favorite overlook on the Parkway. The 360-degree views were stunning in every direction. I sighed deeply and realized even the air seemed different up here. At 5,892′ in elevation it’s nearly 800′ shorter than nearby Mt. Mitchell but regardless the views were amazing.
The summit is divided into four different areas, each with a knee-high stone wall that people are supposed to stay behind (no further comment). In one direction I could see the visitor center and Craggy Knob far below, another direction the Asheville Reservoir, turning around I could see Craggy Dome (and realized Mt. Mitchell was hiding directly behind it), and the fourth direction just mountains as far as I could see.
There always comes a moment I put the camera down and just enjoy the view. I can’t live life through a viewfinder. I sat for nearly half an hour, chatted with some fellow hikers, and breathed deeply. The sound of passing traffic on the Parkway below did not reach the summit. It was a type of natural silence that seemed somewhat comfortable.
I finally packed up my camera gear, took in the view one last time, and turned to leave the summit. I scanned the horizon one last time and caught sight of a hawk soaring through the air below me. How about that?
It was like walking through the showroom of a local car dealership, but instead of each car on display representing a different model each car here represented a different decade. All the cars looked just as shiny as the day they rolled off the assembly floor. I wanted to look everywhere at once, but then one particular car caught my full attention.
Just two hours earlier I pulled up at the Tupelo Automobile Museum as nonchalantly as I would the grocery store. The nondescript metal warehouse didn’t have many cars in the large parking lot. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect inside, but figured this would be a good way to start my second day in Tupelo.
The entrance to the museum was much the same as any other; glass doors leading into a gift shop chocked full of clothing, mugs, and trinkets, and a friendly lady standing at a counter ready to collect my $10 admission fee. But that is where the ordinary ended. Everything changed the moment I walked through the wooden doors into the warehouse beyond.
Lanterns to see the way at night on the 1904 White Model D.
I had never seen so many vintage vehicles collected in one place. Pristine vintage vehicles. The shiny floors and high vaulted ceilings gave the museum the feel of a showroom, but this was an entirely different kind of show. It was like taking a walk through the history of automobiles.
Just inside the entryway was a 1904 White Model D. Four gas lanterns were attached to give some visibility at night, albeit not much. The narrow wheels with a dozen spokes looked more like a wagon wheel. Just beside it was a 1908 Firestone Columbus. It didn’t have a windshield or steering wheel. The l-shaped awning over the two-seat bench and large multi-spoke wheels made this look more like a horse drawn carriage than a motor vehicle. These were some of the oldest models I found on display.
I couldn’t help but laugh at it all. I walked around the museum the first time paying attention to nothing but the tires. At first there were narrow, tall, and had a dozen wooden spokes. Gradually they became wider and shorter. The spokes disappeared in favor of a solid hub. Chrome hub caps were the trend for a few decades. After a few more decades of steel they eventually upgraded to alloy.
TOP: Funny sign that was probably very real in the beginning of motorized vehicles. BOTTOM: If I could own any vintage car today (despite my favorite further down) it would be the 1929 Duesenberg.
The 120,000 square foot warehouse features over a hundred cars spanning over a century of automobile history. The tours are self-guided and you can stay as long as you like once you’ve forked over the small admission price. Small signs label each year and model of the vehicles; press the red button on the speakers to hear a little history of each model as you saunter by.
I was mesmerized by the collection that was slowly brought together by Frank Spain. Spain, a native of Tupelo, along with museum curator Max Berryhill, traveled all across the country in search of each car on display. In 2002 the museum opened and the very next year it was designated the official State of Mississippi Automobile Museum. But really after visiting places like the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the National Corvette Museum, the Tupelo Automobile Museum should be the official national museum of the history of cars.
The 1994 Dodge Viper Roadster, in this particular vibrant red paint, was my favorite car from my childhood.
I had been there for two hours, walking in circles, admiring the history of the cars, when I came around a corner and spotted that one car I had always wanted: the 1994 Dodge Viper Roadster. While all my friends in middle school were arguing over Mustangs, Chargers, and Camaros, all I wanted was the Viper. I didn’t care about the power or performance of the car, I just loved the sleek design of the two-seater, the removable top, and the low profile. This was the closest I’d ever been to the old model Viper and suddenly I felt a surge of envy that Spain had found this car, restored it, and had it among his collection.
Before I left I noticed another childhood icon, the 1981 DeLorean DMC, a car that infamously disappear at 88mph. On my way out Jane Spain, the widow of Frank and executive director of the museum, made sure to point out the dark blue 1958 Toyopet Crown Deluxe sitting by the door. It’s the only one left in existence and fits perfectly at home at this amazing automobile museum.