Tag Archives: National Parks

What You Need To Know About Congaree National Park

I would love to say that we are a super outdoorsy family, but I would be lying. The truth is- although we LOVE being outside- it’s not usually in a nature type setting. Sure, we enjoy sporting events, walking/biking a greenway, cookouts, theme parks and the pool. But, camping and hiking aren’t exactly our thing. However, in our effort Continue reading What You Need To Know About Congaree National Park

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Best National Parks In US

nps

Okay, I promise after today I will resist the temptation to write about National Parks for at least a few weeks. I’ll admit, I have a slight obsession with filling my National Parks Passport book (see details here.) And as I look towards 2017, I want to include National Parks in each of our trips. Also, the kids are already asking “when can we go hiking again?”

Love spending family time in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
Love spending family time in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Naturally, I’ve done a little research and come to one conclusion. The idea of “best” is a very subjective word. I literally stumbled upon hundreds of lists boasting information about the best National Parks in the US. And guess what? No two lists are the same!

For the most part, I’ve decided that it’s purely based on opinions. And in the long run, they’re probably all fabulous in their own way. In case you’ve been wondering just how many of these parks exist, here is a summary from the NPS website:

“The system includes 413 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.”

My initial plan was to organize a trip for the next year based solely on my desire to visit “the best” National Park. However, I’ve decided that we’ll just keep the whole NPS list close.  As I plan travel we’ll hit any that fall along our route or at our destination.

Here are a few of my favorite websites about National Parks:

The Official One (NPS) 

Best List

Top For Camping

NP Bucket List

Best For Families

What are your family’s favorite National Parks, and why?

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Best Hike For Kids Near Asheville

Gorgeous view of the mountains!
Gorgeous view of the mountains!

I would be remiss if I didn’t preface this post with a little information about our family. We’re pretty “city.” Not that we don’t appreciate spending time outside, because we do.  But our idea of outdoor activity includes sports, playgrounds, neighborhood bike rides, days on the beach and occasional yard work. Our annual camping trip involves pitching a tent in the backyard and roasting marshmallows in our fire pit.

However, in our attempt to show our kids the world we’ve realized we can’t miss the natural land. Of course, big cities have so much to offer. But then again, so do the undeveloped natural landscapes and more rural settings. To show our kids this part of the world, we’ve forced ourselves out of our comfort zone.

After visits to two National Parks this year (where we mainly just drove through), we were ready to explore off the beaten path. Our recent trip to Asheville proved the perfect time to work a hike into our schedule. I researched simple/easy hikes for families close to Asheville and came up with several options.

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, just a few miles from downtown Asheville
Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, just a few miles from downtown Asheville

Our first stop on The Blue Ridge Parkway was to the visitors center. We wanted to learn all we could about the area prior to our hike. We were able to watch a wonderfully educational and entertaining video to gain insight into the mountainous culture. Also, at the Visitors Center I tossed out a few of the options I’d found online to get their opinion about the best one for our family. Best of all, we finally got to purchase a National Parks Passport (see Friday Favorite for details!)

Our first cancellation in our passport book!
Our first cancellation in our passport book!

Based on our proximity to Asheville and our skill level, we ended up at Craggy Dome. Here are the reasons Craggy Dome is the best hike for kids near Asheville:

  1. Location: The parking lot for Craggy Dome is about 20 miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway Asheville Visitors Center. The drive is gorgeous!

    Best part of the drive and also the landmark for the Craggy Dome parking lot.
    We loved all the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway
  2. Length: The hike from the parking lot, to the top, and back down is less than a mile and a half.
  3. Difficulty: During your hike you ascend 445 feet (and then obviously descend the same.) In plain English- for non-hikers who don’t relate to that at all, like me- the length and duration of the hike make it not very steep. At times you are walking on almost level ground. For short periods of time you walk up a medium-grade hill, and only at the very end do you climb the equivalent of about 2 staircases.

    Not a terribly difficult hike!
    Not a terribly difficult hike!
  4. Obstacles: I can walk a city street any day. If I’m going to consider a walk, a “hike” there needs to at least be the illusion that I’m doing something out of the ordinary. On your way to Craggy Dome you will follow a footpath that takes you over a few rocks and tree roots. Although you can virtually avoid them all together, the kids especially liked traversing the unfamiliar terrain.

    The kids were super excited to "find" this "real life cave!"
    The kids were super excited to “find” this “real life cave!”
  5. View: What fun would a hike be if you ended up somewhere anti-climatic? The view from Craggy Dome makes every step worth it (and then some!) The 360 degree views are ridiculously gorgeous!

    Breathtaking views atop Craggy Dome
    Breathtaking views atop Craggy Dome

Where is your favorite place to hike with kids?

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Friday Favorite- National Parks Passport

 

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: National Parks Passport Book

National Park Passport Book
National Parks Passport Book

Earlier this year we visited the Shenandoah Valley National Park. Honestly, it was the first true effort we put into showing our kids a National Park. We made a point to stop at a ranger station to pick up park maps. As we made small talk with a ranger he asked us if we had a Passport he could stamp.

Skyline Drive- part of the Shenandoah National Park
Skyline Drive- part of the Shenandoah National Park

Initially, I panicked. We had passports, but didn’t have them with us on our trip to Virginia. Although it took a few seconds, I concluded that he didn’t mean a real passport. With disappointment, I answered “no”. I also made a mental note to figure out what kind of passport he referred to.

Months later we visited Smoky Mountain National Park. We enjoyed collecting park maps and interesting tidbits about the area. Several times throughout the day I thought of the passports (admittedly, for the first time in months.) I took the time to ask one ranger if he knew about the passport. With a dramatic eye-roll he assured me that I was still in the US and didn’t need a passport. My husband couldn’t stop laughing (and reminding me that I’m a blonde) so asking someone else was out of the question.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee

Fastforward to our most recent visit to a National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway Asheville. I literally bumped into a display of Passports! Without even pausing to check the price or features, I purchased one.

We unwrapped the plastic right in the visitors center and got our first official cancellation. According to the book: “these ink markings record the name of the park and the date of your visit. Cancellations are free of charge and are usually available at a park’s visitor center.”

Cancelation from our visit
Cancellation from our visit

Again, I hadn’t even taken a peak at the passport prior to purchasing and using it for the first time. However, once we were back on the road and I got a minute to go through it- I wasn’t disappointed! The pages contain compact, but helpful information on the more than 400 sites in the National Park System.

The book is divided by color-coded region. Each section contains locations by state, as well as a brief description of the geographic area. There are many pages in each section for stamps and cancellations, as well as extra pages in the back.

Color coded regions
Color coded regions

Also included with the passport book is a large map. The kids are already looking for future destinations and planning our route!

To avoid missing out on cancellations as you travel (and the embarrassment of asking for one!), order yours today from the National Parks website.

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Prayers For Fire Relief

fire

For weeks, several states in the South have been battling wildfires. Dry conditions led to unprecedented acreage burning out of control.

As of 9:00PM last night, mandatory evacuations went into effect for Gatlinburg, Tennessee due to a nearby fire.  Gatlinburg attracts 11 million visitors each year and boasts many awards for being one of the top tourist destinations in the US.

In addition to the wildly popular town, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been forced to close several trails and areas.

We visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park earlier this fall. It's one of our favorites!
We visited Great Smoky Mountain National Park earlier this fall. It’s one of our favorites!

Join us in praying for the firefighters, those in affected areas, and for favorable weather conditions!

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National Public Lands Day- September 24th

national-parks

This Saturday, September 24th, our country celebrates National Public Land Day. Yes, that’s really a thing.

So in honor of this holiday, the National Park Service is offering free admission to all 413 of its parks. Our family loves National Parks and we look forward to taking advantage of this great offer!

Entrance to Great Smokey Mountain National Park
Entrance to Great Smokey Mountain National Park

To find an awesome park near you, visit the website: Find Your Park.

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Nevada (A.K.A. Las Vegas) With Kids

NevadaLet’s be honest, not many people actually go to “Nevada”. However, Las Vegas tops the lists as one of the top tourist cities in the world. So despite being one of the most visited states, Nevada as a whole, doesn’t get much attention.

Welcome To Nevada
Welcome To Nevada

 Las Vegas, on the other hand, constantly boasts about its top of the line accommodations. From the beautiful hotels, to the shows, to the food, Las Vegas offers guests a full vacation experience.

Bellagio Fountains
Bellagio Fountains

But what about taking kids to Vegas?

A few years ago we had the opportunity to take our children to Las Vegas. Although I’m always eager to add a new state to our collection I declined the trip. Having never been to Vegas myself, I could not fathom taking kids to that environment. Everything I’d ever seen, or heard about Vegas raised red flags in my mind.

Now, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I was entirely incorrect. Of course, MANY things in Vegas are completely inappropriate for kids. But at the end of the day, I saw how much Vegas did have to offer kids. I try not to live with regrets, so I can’t say I’m sorry we didn’t take the kids on that trip. There will be a “next time” and this time, I will be ready!

The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

When our family visits Nevada, of course, we will spend time in Las Vegas. But we’ll also try to show our kids Nevada! One of my favorite memories from our trip to Vegas was our day-trip to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Other non-Vegas cities in Nevada that we plan to hit: Lake Tahoe, Elko, and Virginia City. We also want to visit several parks including: Great Basin National Park, Valley of Fire State Park, and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

Here are a few great websites I found for planning a trip to Nevada:

Hoover Dam With Kids

Valley of Fire State Park

Lake Tahoe With Kids

Things To Do In Las Vegas With Kids

65 Family Friendly Places To Visit In Vegas

Have you taken your kids to Vegas? 

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