Picture of the Day: Bighorn National Forest

The Bighorn National Forest is one of our favorite National Forests (because of the great name obviously). We didn’t see and Bighorn Sheep while we were there but we did see a moose out in the middle of a field. I would love to spend a couple days camping and exploring this unique Wyoming National Forest! 

Thanks! – Josh

Kings Mountain National Military Park

Kings Mountain National Military Park is located about 40 miles southwest of Charlotte NC.   I was driving back to Atlanta from Charlotte recently and saw the sign for the Park at exit 2 on I-85 and decided to check it out.    Going south from the exit about 4 miles, crossing into South Carolina, you quickly arrive at the Park.   There is no fee to enter or to park at Kings Mountain.

Most of the National Military Parks in the south are related to the Civil War, but this one was not.   Kings Mountain celebrates a stunning Revolutionary War victory by the local Patriots over British led Loyalists.   The Park itself is centered around the Visitor Center and nearby is a well marked paved 1.5 mile long Battlefield Trail which encircles Kings Mountain and details each step of the battle.   The trail goes by several grave markers and memorials along with an interesting marker for when President Hoover made a speech here along the trail.


The paved 1.5 mile long Battlefield Trail


Can you imagine 75,000 people here in the woods listening to President Hoover?

I was glad I made the quick stop and loop around the Battlefield Trail.   If you are a Revolutionary War buff or just want a place to exercise then this is a great place to visit.   I included some more pictures below for you to get an idea of what the area looks like.   Thanks….rk




Sunday Hikes: The Tower Trail at Devil’s Tower National Monument

The Tower Trail is the 1.3 mile loop trail through ponderosa pine forest around Devil’s Tower.  After being cooped up in the car for much of the day driving across Wyoming, I was very excited to hike this quick and easy trail.  

The trailhead is right at the visitors center.  After a walk of a few hundred feet, you come to the rock scramble at the base of the tower.   This is where everyone wants to take their pictures of Devil’s Tower.  Apparently it is acceptable to climb through the rocks to the base of the tower.  With a permit you can climb to the top as well.  

We took the right fork of the paved trail and started our journey around the tower.  There are some minor elevation changes but nothing to worry about.  The views of the tower from each side are slightly different so it was good to go around.  We saw climbers on the backside and that is what really made me appreciate the size of Devil’s Tower.  They looked like specs about 1/3 of the way up the 867 foot tall volcanic rock formation.

As we followed the trail around, we ran into a few deer along with passing several prayer cloth bundles left by native Americans.  

This was a very enjoyable trail and I recommend completing it during your visit to Devil’s Tower.  Also set aside some time to check out the visitors center and climb some rocks during your visit.  Thanks for reading.  rk

Is Mount Rushmore Worth Visiting?

I have gotten a variation of the question, “Is Mount Rushmore worth visiting?”, from almost everyone who has heard of my recent visit.   It appears that many people have heard anecdotally that Mount Rushmore isn’t that impressive or that the Presidential sculptures are actually very small.  To be honest, I had heard many of these statements before I went as well.   I had even heard that the nearby Crazy Horse Monument carving was more impressive than Mount Rushmore.    I think because of hearing these statements, I went into the Mount Rushmore visit with low expectations.

In actuality, I found the Mount Rushmore National Memorial to be not only impressive but well worth the time spent getting there.   I pictured pulling up to an overlook, getting out of the car and taking a few pictures and then be on the way.   There is actually a lot more to see and do while at Mount Rushmore.


The first thing you need to know is that there is a $10 per car parking fee.   It doesn’t matter if you have the National Park pass, you still have to pay it.   That was disappointing.   After parking and walking through the gates, there is a large thoroughfare lined with state flags that leads to the overlook area.   There is a gift shop and visitor center along this thoroughfare as well.   Under the overlook area is a very interesting museum.


Because it took so long for us to get to Mount Rushmore (drove all the way from Yellowstone), it was dinnertime when we arrived.   I was concerned about missing the Mt Rushmore memorial while it was still daylight, but also having the rest of the family becoming hangry.   I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a food court area onsite with multiple delicious options to eat.   I had a New England pot roast served with mashed potatoes, veggies, and bread for only $11.50.   I would have paid more for less at an Applebees type establishment.   I must give a shout out to Xanterra, the third party that runs the restaurants on National Park properties, as they really do a good job.  I have had many spectacular meals at the onsite National Park restaurants they operate.  The ice cream shop in the food court area also had vanilla ice cream made purportedly from Thomas Jefferson’s recipe.   We all devoured the ice cream so quickly that I didn’t manage to get a picture.    For the record, President Jefferson makes a mean vanilla ice cream.

Now that it was dark, we discovered that they have a nighttime ceremony before the park closes each night.   I am not sure how I wasn’t aware of this.  Just past the overlook area is an amphitheater facing the Memorial.  They show an entertaining short film all about Mount Rushmore then turn on spotlights onto the Memorial.   It was pretty cool and I was happy the timing worked out they way it did so we could have the full experience.



To answer the question, Is Mount Rushmore worth visiting?  Yes I think so.  I wouldn’t travel across the country just to see it, but if you are anywhere in the area then by all means make time to come.   The sculptures of each President’s profile are about 60 feet in height each so they are pretty big.   There is also a good bit of hiking in the area that I was unable to do during this visit so I hope to be able to do on a future visit.    I hope this information is helpful and thanks for reading.   rk







Picture of the Day: Marmot posing in Grand Teton National Park

While hiking around Jenny Lake in Grand Teton NP, I saw quite a few marmots.  This one in particular seemed to want to pose for pictures so I obliged.   I also had a near miss on a moose in this same area.  Several hikers said it had run through this general area right before I came through.  Thanks for reading.  rk

Six things you must do in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of our new favorite National Parks.   There is so much to see and do.   Having said that, here are six things you must do during a visit to Badlands NP.

1–Visit the Ben Reifel Visitor Center — I really found the Paleontology Lab here fascinating.  This National Park is loaded with fossils of prehistoric mammals and turtles and this working lab lets you watch paleontologists make scientific discoveries.


The Ben Reifel Visitor Center

2–Hiking —  If you read this blog, then you know we like to go hiking.   There are about a dozen well marked trails near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.   Some are as short as a 1/4 mile and others as long as 10 miles.   Nearly all of them route through the black hills that this park is known for.


Many of the shorter trails are on boardwalks.   This is the kid friendly Fossil Exhibit Trail.


The Cliff Shelf Nature Trail

3–Camping — Hear me out here if you are not a camping savant.   This Park has two campgrounds, Cedar Pass and Sage Creek.   Cedar Pass has all the hookups and electricity etc.   I’m telling you go to Sage Creek.   This primitive campground is considered backcountry.   It does have pit toilets and picnic tables, but all that is worth it for the fabulous scenery and close encounters with bison and prairie dogs.   Plus its free.


The Sage Creek Campground.   (Do you see the bison milling about?)

4–Look for wildlife — It is almost impossible not to see bighorn sheep, bison, and prairie dogs here.   My youngest son was excited to see a turkey vulture also.


This bighorn sheep was just hanging around near Panorama Point

5–See the stars — If you get a clear night and a new moon then you are in stargazing heaven.

6–Stop and see the overlooks on the scenic Badlands Loop Road — The overlooks here are amazing.   You will be glad you stopped to see them.


The White River Valley Overlook on the Badlands Loop Road


Bigfoot Pass Overlook on the Badlands Loop Road


Sunday Hikes:  The Monument Geyser Basin Trail 

The Monument Geyser Basin Trail was my favorite hike during my visit to Yellowstone National Park this past week.  This trail is a little under the radar as it isn’t listed on the National Park website.  The Monument Geyser Basin is shown on the park map, but no trail or further information is given.

The trailhead is located off of the main park road, between the Norris and Madison junctions.  Right before we arrived at the trailhead we saw a grizzly bear walking along the roadway.  That really jazzed us up as we arrived at the trailhead.   It wasn’t well marked and the parking was limited to a dirt area on the side of the road that could probably only fit 2-3 vehicles. 

The air was warm and the skies gray as we started the hike.  I had expected an immediate vertical hike, but was surprised as the trail blazed through the trees along the bank of the Gibbon River.  After about 1/2 a mile, the trail cut left and the steep ascent finally began.  I estimate we picked up about 600 feet in elevation over the next 1/2 mile.  The overlook views got progressively more breathtaking the higher up we went.  I especially liked seeing the Gibbon River snaking through the valley below.

At the top of the mountain lies the Monument Geyser Basin.  This geyser basin isn’t as impressive as the ones farther south in the Old Faithful area.  We saw a little spurting water and some steam but not much else.   We could hear water gurgling nearby but couldn’t locate the source.  We checked with a Park Ranger later and he wasn’t aware of large flows of water up there and promised to check it out the next time he was in the area.  

As a light cool rain shower began to fall, we quickly descended down the mountain and then followed the river back to where our car was parked.

The reason I liked this trail so much was that I felt like we had it to ourselves.  Much of the Yellowstone iconic sights are very crowded so it was nice to have some space to ourselves.   At 2.4 miles round trip this is a trail where you can work up a sweat, enjoy beautiful scenery, and also complete pretty quickly.  I hope you can try this trail the next time you visit Yellowstone National Park.  rk