Outside magazine, June 1992
The crown jewels are wondrous sights, but they're by no means the be-all and end-all of American parks. In fact, only 50 of the National Park Service's 361 sites are properly called parks; the rest are national monuments, battlefields, historic sites, memorials, recreation areas, rivers, lakeshores, seashores, and parkways. These areas may be less known and less acclaimed, but that's precisely what we like about them. Here are eight more of our favorites, but we're keeping a running list: Already this year. Manzanar National Historic Site, in Lone Pine, California, and Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, have joined the system.
Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas. Magnolias grow within sight of cacti here at what's known as the biological crossroads of America. Six ecosystems converge on 86,000 acres where you can canoe, bird-watch, fish, or hike the three-mile Kirby Nature Trail leading from hardwood forest to cypress slough. Entrances to Big Thicket's 12 land parcels are off U.S. 69/ 287, about 30 miles north of Beaumont. For information, call 409-839-2691.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina. Accessible only by boat, these three barrier islands (Portsmouth Island, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Island) stretch south from crowded Cape Hatteras for 55 isolated miles. Loggerhead turtles nest along the coast, wild horses comb the beach on Shackleford, and visitors swim, fish for red drum and sea mullet, paddle on Back and Core sounds, and roam Portsmouth Village, which turned into a ghost town in 1972. Ferries serve the islands from Harker's Island and Atlantic, at the eastern end of U.S. 70; $12 per person. For information, call 919-240-1409.
Gateway National Recreation Area, New York and New Jersey. Unless the view is exceptionally clear from the dune tops, you'll never guess that this wilderness is just 25 miles from Manhattan. Here you can wander the seven-mile beach and 160-acre holly forest at Sandy Hook, fish for flounder off Canarsie Pier, or watch for 300 species of birds in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. To get to Sandy Hook, take the Garden State Parkway to Route 36, then drive ten miles west. For Jamaica Bay, drive south through Queens on Cross Bay Boulevard or take the Penn Station A Train one hour to Broad Channel, then walk north on Cross Bay for 15 minutes. For information, call 718-338-3338.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Often overshadowed by its flashy neighbor, Yellowstone, Grand Teton features dramatic peaks that rise to 13,770 feet and stretch ten miles wide. You can climb mountains, paddle Snake River whitewater, fish for lake or cutthroat trout, hike 250 miles of high-country trails, and watch for bison, elk, pronghorns, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, and the occasional bighorn sheep. From Jackson, take Highway 89 north 12 miles to the park entrance. For information, call 307-733-2880.
Great Basin National Park, nevada. Who says Nevada is all desert? Great Basin's 77,100 acres span seven life zones, including high alpine country that rises straight out of the sagebrush to 13,000 feet; 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine forests; a small glacier; Lehman Caves, dripping with stalactites; and 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in the central Great Basin. Hike up the south fork of Baker Creek to Snake Creek Divide, or take a car on 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for clear, 70- to 200-mile views. The park is 70 miles east of Ely, near the Utah state line; from Baker, Nevada, drive five miles west on State Route 488. For information, call 702-234-7331.
Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado. The Ute name means "deserted valley"--an apt title for this 784-acre park, one of the last in the national park system to be staffed by just two rangers. Access to five of these six clusters of Anasazi dwellings from the Pueblo III Period (A.D. 1100-1300) is over rough roads; once there, you can hike two miles of trails or camp near the Square Tower ruins. Hovenweep lies 45 miles southwest of Cortez, Colorado, off U.S. 666. Call 303-529-4461 for road conditions and directions.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. Only 16,000 visitors make the ferry or seaplane trip each summer to this rugged Lake Superior island, the least-visited site in the entire national park system. They come to hike 166 miles of trails, fish 22 inland lakes, and kayak the shoreline. The rest of the year, the place is left to timber wolves, lynx, red foxes, river otters, and snowshoe hares, as well as moose whose ancestors swam over from Canada. You, however, can take the ferry, a threeto seven-hour passage from Houghton, Michigan, and Grand Portage, Minnesota, at fares of $60-$85 per person. Open mid-April through October; call 906-482-0984.
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. At 66.1 miles, ten of which were mapped and added only last year, this is the third-longest cave in the United States. The Park Service offers cave tours year round, but claustrophobes can hike 30 miles of trails in the mixed-grass prairie above. Keep your eyes open for the park's herd of 300 bison, as well as elk, coyotes, and horned owls. Wind Cave is an hour south of Rapid City, just off U.S. 385. For information, call 605-745-4600.