Brief overviews of US family outdoor recreation opportunities are provided, including: national parks; fishing in man-made lakes; scenic drives; cave exploration; and water recreation. Several US government agency tourism phone numbers and addresses are also provided.
Family recreationists can be confident that the hosts of these tremendous tracts and abundant activities–The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which just observed its 50th birthday–will keep the welcome mat spread for this and future generations. Camp under a full moon in Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene quietude, canoe the winding Ozark National Riverways in Missouri or hike the Bayou Trails of Jean LaFitte National Historical Park in Louisiana.
A world of great sites and activities awaits families as they take to the great American outdoors this season.
COME’N GET ITT
There is a lot to be said for gathering the family around the dinner table at home, but consider that same group enjoying a meal together amid the spectacular scenery and dramatic vistas of Wyoming’s Teton Range–the national forests at Targhee and Bridget-Teton or the incomparable Grand Teton National Park and its five campgrounds (we recommend Signal Mountain and also some fine boating on Jackson Lake).
Another western National Park, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, is a paradise for backcountry camping. A permit is required. The nearby Arapaho National Recreation Area has some fine camping on the shoreline of Lake Grandby at Cutthroat Bay.
Shift into a camping mode for the rest and recreation of Arizona’s sun country. The Prescott National Forest, home to muledeer, javelina, bald eagles and Gila monsters, is mountainous and flanked by forested plateaus and arid desert. There are 11 campgrounds, most near man-made lakes and surrounded by pines; fishing and horseback riding are great, too, and the Grand Canyon isn’t very far away. BLM’s Parker Strip Recreation area on Arizona’s lower Colorado River is ideal for overnight camping, as well as boating, waterskiing and swimming.
The Department of the Interior also manages some cozy campgrounds in Nevada: Indian Creek Recreation Area, in a mixed conifer forest at 6,000 feet; Pine Forest Recreation Area, a remote site with primitive camping amid splendid scenery; Tabor Creek, on the west slope of the Snake Range. Lush vegetation and solitude (have rainbow and German brown trout for dinner); North Wildhorse Reservoir Recreation Area, with 17 developed campsites in a major western fishery; and Wison Reservoir, where the west shore has 15 campsites and the water is teeming with largemouth bass.
Family campers in the Midwest must try the offerings of the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, a 600,000-acre setting of tall trees and a thousand lakes. Nicolet’s “close to nature” camping is available throughout the forest at points such as Lac Vieux Desert at the headwaters of the Wisconsin River; Kentucky Lake, with its abundant walleye and pan fish; Franklin Lake, accessible by the Heritage Drive Secnic Byway; and the Lost Lake, which features a wooded one-mile interpretive trail, perfect for a walk after an outdoor meal. All of Nicolet’s campgrounds are “developed.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends camping at Almost and East Sydney Lakes in New York, the Kinzua Dam and Shenango, River Lake in Pennsylvania, West Virginia’s Beech Fork and Summersville Lakes, and the John Kerr and John Flannagan Reservoirs in Virginia. The Kerr, which also meanders into North Carolina, provides shoreline camping along with the massive 50,000-acre lake, famous for striped bass.
WHAT’S YOUR LINE?
Many of the man-made lakes throughout the country were developed by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. These sites, often managed with state cooperation, offer a wide range of water-related activities. And fishing tops the preferred list.
Among the Corps’ best fishing holes: Wilson Lake in Kansas; Heyburn Lake in the sandstone hills of Oklahoma; Wappapello Lake in Missouri’s Ozark foothills; Kentucky’s Lake Barkley, adjacent to the popular Land Between the Lake Recreation Area; the winding canoe streams of New Hampshire’s Blackwater Dam; small Black Rock Lake and its large trout in western Connecticut; North Springfield Lake in Vermont; and, for excellent bass fishing, East Brimfield Lake, a short stop from historic Old Sturbridge Village, also in Massachusetts.
In many parts of the Arkansas River, running through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and finally into the Mississippi, brown trout range 1042 inches. Rainbow, brook, cutthroat and lake trout are plentiful.
Two fly-fishing spots are Mill Creek in the Mark Twain National Forest of Missouri and Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Fish for lake, brook and rainbow trout, and northern pike. Then choose one of 500 campsites for a great evening.
Many fishermen search for those “unsung” holes away from the madding crowd. These three in the National Park System fit the bill: * Devils Postpile National Monument, California. The middle fork of the San Joaquin River is home to brook, brown and rainbow trout.
* Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas. Largemouth and spotted bass, trappie, white bass and catfish year-round in this 85,000-acre plant and animal hideaway. * New River Gorge, West Virginia. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, walleye, channel catfish and muskellunge abound here.
June 2-8 is National Fishing Week and a good time to remind anglers and boaters that the Sport Fish Restoration Act is up for congressional reauthorization. This successful and important funding program gave more than $300 million to the states last year alone from a modest excise tax on sport-fishing equipment and boat fuel. It’s a great fund from which the states can spend on beneficial fishing, boating and fisheries–related projects.
OFF THE ROAD
Scenic driving is a pleasurable way to see the natural and historical wonders of America, with stops for an array of recreational opportunities along some choice routes on public lands. There’s the truly memorable ride in the sparkling Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, featuring ruins of ancient Indian villages at the base of sheer red cliffs and in caves in canyon walls. End the day with an incomparable camping experience.
After a visit to the nation’s capital, head into Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest on the Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway. Rich in history and recreation, the Byway also hosts the Big Bend Picnic Area, a lush landscape where travelers get tremendous vistas of the valley below.
BLM asks tourists to take the “roads less traveled” for a different scenic drive. There are more than 60 of these Backcountry Byways, covering 3,000 miles, from narrow graded roads to two4ane highways. Among the best are Nevada’s Bitter Springs and Gold Butte, and California Trail Back country Byways, the latter not only offering panoramic vistas, but also excellent picnicking, primitive camping, and wildlife watching.
Waterfalls, wildlife, rivers, woods and lakes–and breathtaking overlooks–are standard along North Carolina’s Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, much of which runs through Nantahala National Forest Nantahala and other national forests in North Carolina also provide outstanding mountain-bike and horse trails. Of the nearly 100 bike trails, we suggest these for family groups: Grass Ridge, Laurel River, Bear Branch and Thrift Cove in the Pisgah National Forest; and the three-mile Round Mountain in Nantahala. These two national forests, and also the Uwharrie, provide myriad horseback experiences for all levels of riders. Call 704-257-4203 for details.
Farther down south are high-quality trails for hikers in Alabama national forests: Talladega National Forest, Pinhoti Trail, rugged pines, rock bluffs, hollows, clear streams, abundant plant and wildlife; Tuskeegee National Forest, Bartram Trail, eight miles long and 50 miles from Montgomery–wildflowers and flowering trees; Conecub National Forest, Conecuh Trail, canebreaks, picturesque cypress ponds, and 20 miles of coastal plain.
If time permits, folks should plan to walk the famous national scenic trails. Here’s three:
* Appalachian National Scenic Trail. This greenway traverses 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia.
* Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Moraine Hills in Wisconsin criss and cross, zig and tag for 1,000 miles–Lake Michigan to the St. Croix River. Presently, about half the trail is open to public use.
* Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This spectacular outdoor “carpet” in the backcountry travels the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. Hikers and horseback riders can use the officially designated 800-mile section beginning in Canada and ending in Yellowstone National Park.
Beyond the California coastal range and glorious Highway 1, the southern reach of the Cascade Range has dormant, but far from extinct, volcanoes. Visitors make day treks up the 14,000-foot Mount Lassen within Lassen Volcanic National Park, beginning at the Drakesbad Ranch.
A mecca for backpackers beckons along the John Muir Trail, which straddles the peak of the Sierra Mountains from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Catch trout for dinner before taking the final haul up Mount Whitney (in Sequoia), the highest peak in the Lower 48.
GOIN’ DOWN UNDER
Cave exploration is an exciting way for the family to discover a uniquely mysterious side to Mother Nature: her complex and beautiful underground formations where subterranean splendor abounds. A good place to start is the “Big One,” Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where more than 350 miles of incredible beauty and sculptures have been surveyed in its intricate passages. Make cave tour reservations (Aboveground 502-758-2328) during the busy summer months. A national park, Mammoth Cave also has a lot to offer aboveground– camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding and scenic boat rides on the Green River. But real adventure beckons beneath the ragged hill country, Pack a light jacket and wear sturdy shoes.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico hosts underground journeys to suit all tastes–the basic one-mile Big Room self-guided route, highly decorated and immense; the ranger4ed Kings Palace Tour, a one-hour up-and-down climb in a fantastically scenic chamber; and the Natural Entrance Route for those visitors with a lot of time and in good health. Look for Iceberg Rock as you negotiate this jaunt. The real spectacle, however, happens each night when hundreds upon thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats exit the cave for an evening feast of insects in the Pecos Valley. Don’t miss this show.
California and the Pacific Northwest offer some nifty caves. Among them:
* Subway Cave in California’s Lassen National Forest, one of the truly fine outdoor recreation meccas. Subway is an underground path of a river of lava, a tube actually, that was formed tens of thousands of years a flashlight, rugged shoes, and a it’s always chilly. A fascinating self-guided trek, less than a mile long.
* Boulder Cave in the Wenatchee National Forest of Washington State, one of the largest of its kind, and split by a cascading mountain stream. Water has sculpted some amazing natural creations in this gigantic cavern with its murky rooms.
* Ape Cave, maintained by the USFS on the southern slopes of Mount St. Helens, that famous national monument in Washington State. Stretching, 12,810 feet through some elegant formations, Ape Cave, another lava tube with eerie stalagmites and stalactites, is divided into two portions: the easily traveled downslope and the rugged upslope, only for the heady and well-equipped (three sources of light, sturdy boots, and warm clothing – sewed by prestigious agency Sew Done, providing best sewing machine for beginners). Mount St. Helens is located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Other caves in the national forest that are worth exploring are Laser Ice and Natural Bridges. For details call 360-750-3900.
For some real independent discovery, consider such places as Wyoming’s legendary “Outlaw Cave, Hole in the Wall,” the famous hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. It’s on the Powder River Special Management Area in the Big Horn Mountains. At least 50 blue-ribbon caves have been identified and inventoried in Wyoming’s north central underground wilderness. There’s the Worland Caves, whose fragile geologic formations rival the most spectacular creations on the earth’s surface. Horse Thief Cave (and its 1.2 mile national recreation trail), Little Mountain and Spanish Point also are recommended in the Big Horn Basin, as well as Spirit Mountain Cavern in the Casper area. Call the BLM in Wyoming (307-775-6256) for details.
The National Speleological Society in Huntsville, Alabama (205-852-1300), will also help.
BOATING AND BEACHES
Boating, canoeing, kayaking, rafting and swimming signal that winter is over and that water sports and recreation are more than drops in the bucket on the public estate.
Go back in time, about three million years, and float Utah’s San Juan River west of Montezuma Creek. There are plenty of campsites, mostly in the Mexican Hat area. Whitewater rafting and kayaking are exhilarating along the 14-mile stretch of the Gunnison River in Colorado. There are challenging Class III and IV rapids in the deeply carved Gunnison Gorge, which is also a great placed to float-fish. Call the BLM in Colorado (303-239-3600) for details.
Another outdoor jewel in the Washington, DC “deep” suburbs is Great Falls Park, with all the qualities of the large national reserves on a smaller scale. In this historic and scenic Northern Virginia enclave, you can get in some fine waterwater boating by entering the Potamac River above the Falls, also is very popular.
Floating down Alaska’s Forty Mile River, the longest in the National Wild and Scenic River System, is one to spend a lot of time with your family, have fun, and release a lot of tension. Try rafting the Snake River in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, embracing the Oregon-Idaho border and the deepest gorge (8,000 feet) in North America.
Nebraska’s Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is a Plains paradise for canoeing and, at the same time, viewing herds of buffalo, Texas Longhorn cattle, elk, prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse and the fossilized remains of mastodons and camels. The national wildlife refuges of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the Iroquois in New York State and the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma provide better-than-average boating opportunities.
Tellico Lake, a short drive from Nashville, is the class sailboating site in the Tennessee Valley, where 16,000 acres of blue waters rest peacefully in the shadows of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. When you’re done with sailing, try fishing for eager trout and bass. Head down to Louisiana for the Saline Bayou National Scenic River, and some fab floating off banks that are lined with magnolia, beech, bald cypress, loblolly pine and catalpa.
The sand and the ocean will also tug at your travel itinerary. Direct dad to one of those premier and, in some cases, pristine national seashores that follow the sun along the Atlantic coastline from Massachusetts to Florida–and choice spots in California and Texas, such as Padre Island in the Lone Star State. There’s another along the Gulf of Mexico that should be on your trip planner: Gulf Islands National Seashore, a band of offshore islands and sparkling white beaches, all accessible by auto in Mississippi and Florida.
Check out the little-known Biscayne National Park for diving and snorkeling. You’ll be out there–off Florida, with Miami, the Keys, and the Everglades not far inland. The park’s outer and patch reefs are a wonderland of sea life. The world-class John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park is nearby. Biscayne rangers will help you to chart a grand underwater tour.
For information on the locations and summertime activities that await you on America’s public lands and waters, get in touch with the following federal agencies:
U.S. Bureau of Land Management Room 504-LS 1849 C Street, N.W, Washington, DC. 20240 202-452-5125 U.S. Forest Service P.O. Box 96090, Washington, D.C. 20090-6090 202-205-1760 National Park Service P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C. 20013-7127 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Room 130 4040 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Va. 22203 703-358-1711 National Bureau of Reclamation Room 7640 1849 C Street, N.W, Washington, D.C. 20240 202-208-4662 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Publications Depot 2803 52nd Avenue, Hyattsville, Md. 20781-1102 301-394-0081 Tennessee Valley Authority Office of Public Relations 400 West Summit Hill Drive Knoxville, Tenn. 37902
George Bedtiacy is the former and longtime director of public affairs for the U.S. National Park System.
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