By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
This time of year a traveler’s thoughts turn to cooler places, in a literal sense. We already had felt the relaxation of watery surroundings as we planned and wrote this column. Now, rather than being repetitive, please assume that activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming are all a part of visiting the national lakes and seashores written about below. After all, how could there not be water around?
1. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Lake Superior, Wisconsion
Right where Wisconsin’s northern border meets Lake Superior are the 21 islands that make up Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The park also includes 12 miles along the Lake Superior shoreline, which is great for those of us who get motion sickness just from looking at a boat, let alone boarding one. Either way, you can enjoy pristine stretches of sandy beach, spectacular sea caves, and the remnants of an old-growth forest. Keep an eye out for the resident bald eagles. The black bears won’t be as easy to spot, but you can console yourself by viewing the largest collection of lighthouses anywhere in the National Park System.
2. Assateague Island National Lakeshore, Berlin, Maryland, and Chincoteague, Virginia
Right where Maryland, Virginia, and the Atlantic Ocean meet lies a barrier island: Assateague. You’ll love this area. The wild horses of Assateague take center stage, but we didn’t see them when we visited, probably because we were too focused on spotting as many of the park’s 300-plus bird species as possible. But there are many other ways to enjoy the place. Go swimming in the ocean or canoeing in the bay.
3. Canaveral National Seashore, Titusville, Oak Hill, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Located on the Atlantic coast, Canaveral National Seashore offers a barrier island with ocean, beach, dune, lagoon, salt marsh, and piney habitats. The island and adjacent waterways teem with more than a thousand plant species. You’ll also find more than 300 species of birds, plus loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles, with a few manatees for good measure. You won’t be bored.
4. Cape Cod National Seashore, Wellfleet, Massachusetts
“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.” That 1957 tune accompanied us during the drive up the Cape Cod Peninsula, and we did fall in love with our surroundings. It’s a beautiful marriage of nature and human structures “” a 40-mile-long stretch of sandy beach, backed up with dozens of kettles (deep, freshwater ponds), and masses of cranberries floating skin-to-skin in the water. How could we not fall in love with Old Cape Cod?
5. Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores, on the Outer Banks, North Carolina
Allow plenty of time for this adventure. State Route 12 takes you hopping along the string of barrier islands that enclose Pamlico Sound. It’s not too lovingly described as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” because so many shipwrecks resulted from treacherous currents and massive storms in this area. Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides a look into the history of these shipwrecks, as well as lighthouses and the United States Life-Saving Service. Farther south, Cape Lookout National Seashore focuses on nature. The park’s three barrier islands “” North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks “” may seem barren and isolated, but they offer both natural and historical features to draw your interest.
6. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Saint Marys, Georgia
Cumberland Island includes marshes, mudflats, and tidal creeks. It is especially well known for its sea turtles, shore birds (many of them), salt marshes, dune fields, historic structures, and, yes, a new museum. We’ve spent considerable time at this seashore and highly recommend it.
7. Fire Island National Seashore, Patchogue, New York
Just an hour east of New York City lies Fire Island. On this barrier island just off Long Island, you’ll find pristine ocean shores and an ancient forest, as well as legacies left by lighthouse keepers. Take a ferry and spend a day at the beach or bird-watch in a 300-year-old forest. Take a lighthouse tower tour and see the lighthouse museum, too.
8. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and Gulf Breeze, Florida
This 150-mile-long park is split into 11 separate units, running from West Ship Island in eastern Mississippi to Santa Rosa Island in western Florida. Most of the area was closed following last summer’s hurricanes, but many of those units have reopened. We hope that the entire preserve will be open before this winter, the best time for a visit. That’s when you see fewer people, enjoy great weather, and appreciate the serenity. You’ll want to stroll along the snowy-white beaches beside the sparkling blue water and enjoy the park’s lush, green coastal marshes. Winding nature trails provide visitors with opportunities to walk and hike to 19th-century forts.
9. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter, Indiana
In this park, located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, you’ll find another of our most loved lakeshores. It contains roughly 15,000 acres, with 2,000 of them designated as part of Indiana Dunes State Park. The miles of beaches along a sand dune shoreline give you a pleasant feeling of isolation. And when you’re ready for something different, check out the bogs, wetlands, and forests farther inland. Take along your plant guide “” we were surprised to note that Indiana Dunes is ranked seventh among all the national parks in native plant diversity, with more than 1,500 species. To be honest, we didn’t take time to count; we just enjoyed them.
10. Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas
Here’s another don’t-miss spot. It’s claimed that Padre Island is the longest remaining undeveloped barrier island in the world. We can’t vouch for that, but we can attest to the island’s beauty. It, too, has white sand beaches, interior grasslands, and ephemeral ponds. The last two provide excellent habitat for plants and animals. This island is a mecca for tourists who enjoy sunbathing, windsurfing, and fishing, and like to feel the wind in their faces and the surf on their feet. The park is also known for its sea turtles and great birding. If you’re lucky, you also might catch a glimpse of the resident coyotes or see jellyfish washing up on the beach.
11. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, Michigan
This, America’s first national lakeshore, is a long, skinny park “” 42 miles long and 5 miles wide. You can expect to find plenty of beauty. Sandstone cliffs, sand dunes, waterfalls, and a forest await you on the Lake Superior shoreline. Besides reveling in the beauty, check out the lighthouse, the old Coast Guard station, and remnants of a few old farmsteads. In 2006 Pictured Rocks will celebrate its 40th anniversary with several special events, particularly during the Fourth of July holiday, and on October 14 and 15.
12. Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes, California
Point Reyes National Seashore combines elements of biological and historical interest with a spectacular panorama of thunderous ocean breakers, open grasslands, and bushy hillsides. The park is home to approximately 37 kinds of native land mammals and another dozen or so marine mammal species. This biological diversity stems from its favorable location and variety of habitats. Nearly 20 percent of California’s flowering plant species are represented on the peninsula, and more than 45 percent of the bird species in North America have been sighted there. That’s enough reason for us to visit often.
13. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan
The “Dunes” encompass a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, plus nearby North Manitou and South Manitou islands. The park originally was established for its dramatic natural features, which include forests, beaches, dune formations, and phenomena created by ancient glaciers. The lakeshore also contains cultural features, including an 1870s-era lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations, and an extensive historic farm district.
One final comment: It wasn’t until we wrote this column that we realized just how much time we have spent enjoying this country’s national lakes and seashores. Hope you do the same.