Gateway Arch National Park?

Missouri – Visited June 2018 (28 out of 61)

This is no National Park

Where did the idea to re-designate this place a National Park originate? If you read online boards and blogs, there are multiple conspiracy theories. Was it designated as predictor of reduced federal protection for public lands in the west? Is it part of a new westward expansion? Is it Trump favoritism to increase property values in the vicinity?

Gateway Arch doesn’t meet the characteristic qualities of any other National Park. Within the National Park System, there are 19 naming designations such as: historical parks; historic sites; national monuments; and national recreation areas. Many of these would have been substantially more fitting. The area comprising Gateway Arch National Park is a pittance at 0.8 km². Out of the 60 other National Parks, the average area they encompass is 3,400 km². The second smallest, Hot Springs in Arkansas, still dwarfs this park at 22.5 km² (Wikipedia 2019).

At this park, there are no special geologic or archaeological features. There are no unique habitats or ecological systems that need protection. There is a man-made arch, a small park, and an underground museum. It is set in an industrialized area of St. Louis, MO along the Mississippi River. The river bank adjacent the park area is bricked, and appears quite lifeless. It serves as the slanted parking lot for vehicles too large to fit in the parking garage. The river water shimmers with oil sheen and loud barges pass. A sign and dock beckon a ride on a riverboat, its white wheel still trying to hopelessly recollect days more pleasant along this lofty river.

Still we went. There is history to be learned here, but I think the summation of this experience is what we don’t want. It reflects what we really want to see when we venture to a National Park: natural arches, natural caves, natural rainbows, natural river banks – NATURE. Kids will learn a few things, they will enjoy the arch, like they enjoy an amusement park ride.

Remember: Be aware, this isn’t a place to pull your RV especially if you aren’t used to driving in traffic or dense population. If you are trying to get to all National Parks, you have another place to add to your list, but go with a different perspective on what you will be experiencing. Go, and then write your politicians to demand protection for our WILD spaces.

Junior Ranger Badge:

  • Arch Design
  • History of Westward Expansion
  • Architecture

Things to Do Nearby:

  • Old Courthouse
  • Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

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Wind Cave National Park

South Dakota – June 2016

Treasure Above and Below

There is a National Park where you can take an elevator ride to the depths of the earth and enjoy ranger guided tours through one of the longest caves in the world! Go to Wind Cave National Park to see enchanting cave formations that grace the underground labyrinth where park rangers will guide you and your little spelunkers. Go to wander horizontally and vertically through the darkness, sometimes in narrow passageways that open into towering cathedral rooms. Intricate, weirdly wonderful cave formations like stalactites, popcorn, bacon, and box work are visible nearly everywhere. This place is a magical wonderland where imagination commingles with profound learning opportunities.

The topside offers its own beauty set in the Black Hills of South Dakota where American bison and other wildlife are easily discovered. Pine trees and grass prairies abound, and scenic pull offs offer many a great opportunity for that perfect photo.

American Bison Windcave NP

Junior Ranger Badge

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from the Wind Cave Visitor Center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Wind Cave, children will learn about:

  • Cave Discovery
  • Habitats and Diversity
  • Water’s journey
  • Fire Ecology

Windcave NP Junior Ranger

Extra Tips

To enter the cave, you must purchase a guided tour ticket at the Wind Cave Visitor Center. Tours begin at the visitor center. Tours do sell out, so it is best to arrive early in the day to purchase your tickets. It is possible to make reservations ahead of time for both the Candlelight Tour (minimum age 8) and the Wind Cave Tour (minimum age 16) by calling 605-745-4600. Other tours are available including: Garden of Eden, Natural Entrance, and Fairgrounds. In order to select the appropriate tour for your family, please visit the park website for tour descriptions. The park website discusses tour features including recommendations and restrictions.

For our trip, we made advanced reservations for the Candlelight Tour. Make reservations at least one month prior. Our children were 10 and 13, and so our family met the 8-year-old age restriction. Small buckets with candles, tipped sideways, are used as lanterns. Everyone (including children) carries their own candle bucket. No electronic devices, including cameras are allowed. The tour was thrilling, but somewhat strenuous and the surface was very uneven. No sandals are allowed. The kids were enthralled with the deep sense of adventure. The intense quiet and dark of the cave left a surreal feeling of peace for a long time, even after we left. Beyond the adventure and learning about the science and history of the cave, that peaceful feeling was an unanticipated bonus!

Comfortable, stable, closed toe walking shoes are an absolute must. Bring a jacket. The ground surface in the cave is uneven and can be slippery. Also, it can be quite chilly underground, even when warm and sunny on the surface. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

Control your children – yes, I really did write that. If you cannot, a cave tour isn’t for them. It is dark down there, like pitch black. You don’t want kids darting away from you or getting in the path of other visitors. The trip underground can be disorienting and for safety reasons, everyone needs to be able to concentrate on the traverse and not worry about errant children.

Parking becomes more limited later in the day, especially for RVs. If you are driving a motor home or pulling a travel trailer, we highly recommended that you arrive early.

Remember

Do not wear shoes or clothing that have been in any other cave, except Jewel Cave or Wind Cave. A mass extinction is currently underway in the United States. White-Nose Syndrome has killed over 5 million bats since 2006. Bats might not be particularly cuddly creatures, but they are essential to pest control and critical to a healthy ecosystem. White-Nose Syndrome is caused by a fungus that disturbs the bats during hibernation causing them to essentially starve. Spores may easily travel on your clothing or other items, so please protect the bats in your national park sites and follow these park rules.

Where to Eat

There are no restaurant or grocery services available in the park. The best itinerary includes arriving when the visitor center opens, purchasing tickets, and then a picnic lunch before finding time to hike in the park, or explore other nearby areas. See itinerary below. If you head to Hot Springs afterwards, check out  Woolly’s Western Grill  located at 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414.

When to Go

You just cannot beat South Dakota for Independence Day fun! Plan a complete summer vacation, including a visit to Wind Cave National Park during the first week of July. The weather is fantastic and there are so many things to do! For more information, we highly recommend you obtain a South Dakota Travel Vacation guide. You can either download at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com, or give them a call at 1-800-732-5682 and they will mail one to you.

Where to Stay

There are so many exceptional places to stay in the area! From tent camping to luxurious lodging, the Custer, South Dakota area is comprehensive in accommodations.  The Elk Mountain Campground is the only campground within the Wind Cave National Park boundaries and sites are first-come, first-served. Outside of the park, nearby Custer State Park offers plentiful campgrounds, and other lodging including motels and cabins.

Our Itinerary

I am an obsessive planner when it comes to our vacations! I usually keep us on a packed schedule, with scheduled down-time. We our providing our itinerary as an example, only. There are so many variables that you must consider for your own family but this may give you a start in planning your own excellent Black Hills vacation.

Driving Time Activities (July 3, 2016)
Badlands to Wind Cave Leave @ 6:30 Drive to: Wind Cave National Park (2.25 Hours) Hwy 44 W thru Scenic to Rapid City, Route 79 S. approx. 50 miles to U.S. Route 385. Right onto U.S. Route 385 North, then continue through Hot Springs. U.S. Hwy 385 another 6 miles N. and into Wind Cave National Park.
  8:00 – 10:30 Wind Cave Visitor Center located 11 miles north of Hot Springs off U.S. Hwy 385, about 1/2 mile west from the highway. Do not use your GPS to find the visitor center — you will get lost.
  10:30-12:30 Wind Cave Candle Light Tour – Reservations are accepted beginning one month before the tour and must be made by phone or in person. Please call 605-745-4600 Reservations for Candle Light Tour @ 10:30 (Long Pants, Shirt, Boots & Mittens)
  1:00 Packed picnic lunch in parking lot @ Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave NP to Mammoth Site 1:30-3:30 Drive to Hot Springs, SD and tour Mammoth Site 1800 US 18 Bypass Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6017
Walk to Wooly’s Western Grill 3:30-4:00 Ice Cream at Woolly’s Western Grill 1648 US HWY 18 Hot Springs, SD 57747; 605-745-6414
Mammoth Site to Fort Welikit 4:00 – 5:00 Fort Welikit Family Campground 24992 Sylvan Lake Rd Custer, SD 57730; 888-946-2267
  5:00 – 6:00 Set up camper and quick dinner
Drive to Bismark Lake (near Stockade Lake) 6:00-Sunset Fly fishing at Stockade or Bismark Lake 

89 South 16A East

Badlands National Park

South Dakota – 07/2016 (17 out of 61)

An Unexpected Beauty

Badlands National Park Vistas

Take you kids here to summit colorful dirt hill. Badlands National Park offers a glimpse at the remnant West. Stunning colorful vistas, abundant wildlife, and unique geology await you in Dakota territory. Your family will have the opportunity to watch wild bison languidly grazing in green valleys. Bighorn sheep can be spotted throughout the park; and prairie dog towns offer insight into animal social structures. Burrowing owls are frequent visitors too!

The geologic history of the area offers budding fossil hunters ample opportunity to spot finds. With the substantial rate of erosion of the soft surrounding matrix rock, the re-mineralized fossils stand out sharply. Go for a long hike and try spotting rhino, horse, camel, saber-tooth cat, turtle, crocodile, and snail fossils that lived here over 50 million years ago! Don’t touch, but instead snap a picture and fill out a find form at the Paleontology Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center! A ranger will examine your photo, take location information, and try to identify it if possible. When you’re ready to grab some souvenirs. The gift shop adjacent to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center features beautiful Northern Plain Native artwork.

Junior Ranger Badge:

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book from the Ben Reifel Visitor Center and let your children complete the booklet. When completed, return it to a park ranger for them to take the park pledge and earn a Junior Ranger Badge! Don’t forget to drop some money in the donation box to pay for the expenses. At Badlands, children will learn about:
• The Lakota
• Rattlesnakes
• Plant Adaptations
• Stratigraphy
• Paleontology

Remember

It is illegal to take fossils from within park boundaries. According to 36 CFR Chapter I “…the following is prohibited: (1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state: (iii) Non-fossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, cultural or archeological resources, or the parts thereof. (iv) A mineral resource or cave formation or the parts thereof.
Please, do the right thing and leave treasures where you find them.Educate your children as well. Remember, park rangers carry binoculars. If you are caught, you will be prosecuted.

Badlands National Park Fossil

Extra Tips

Enjoy ranger programs. There is so much knowledge to be gained in a national park and park ranger programs are a fun way for kids to learn. Ranger programs we enjoyed included a geology hike and fossil talk. Both events were held in the “field” where kids can look and touch which helps them retain knowledge. Rangers love to answer questions! Always plan to stop at a Visitor Center at the beginning of your trip to find when and where programs will be available during your visit. Beyond ranger programs, they frequently have other unique activities. For example, during our visit we enjoyed an evening performance by the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble! Free!

Explore other nearby activities. Snag another Junior Ranger Badge as you teach your children about the madness of the cold war at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Check out the famous Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, the ultimate roadside tourist trap. Seriously, there is nothing like this place and you must go! Where else can you get a picture riding a jackelope? Other local attractions include the National Grasslands Visitor Center, and the Wounded Knee Museum.

Ride a Jackalope

Where to Eat

Within the park boundaries, you can dine at Cedar Pass Restaurant and enjoy a Navajo Taco! Ok, so, they call them Sioux Indian Tacos here, but I grew up in Utah and they will always be Navajo Tacos to me. Whatever you call these delicious fry bread delicacies, they are a must have treat to look for whenever we are near Indian Territory.

When to Go

Nothing beats South Dakota for Independence Day fun! Plan a complete summer vacation, including a visit to Badlands National Park during the first week of July. The weather is fantastic and there are so many things to do! For more information, we highly recommend you obtain a South Dakota Travel Vacation Guide. You can either download at https://www.travelsouthdakota.com, or give them a call at 1-800-732-5682 and they will mail it to you.

Badlands National Park 1

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North Dakota – Visited June 2016 (18 out of 61)

Inspiration is Home

Take your children to this park to see intrinsically where the roots of preservation were breathed to life. If you are a national park enthusiast, you have come to revere Theodore Roosevelt as the architect of our beloved treasures. Traveling to his namesake park is something of a religious pilgrimage. A visit here is a journey for the soul. Like all great journeys, getting here takes effort. This landscape is what inspired the man to preserve our wild places. For that reason alone, it is worth the visit. Teddy Roosevelt was a giant among men. With a fascinating spirit he emboldened his life, and our nation, with accomplishments and charisma. The beauty of this place lies in the very essence of its desolate voice. Think wild horses roaming vast green badlands and you are getting the picture.


Hiking on trails at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center will give you a chance to explore the local flora and fauna and see an overlook of the colorful geologic landscape. Take time at the South Unit Visitor Center to learn more about Theodore Roosevelt. No, he never rode a bull moose, but he did finish a campaign speech with a bullet in his chest before being rushed to the hospital. Cruise along the Scenic Loop Drive, especially picturesque at sunset.

Junior Ranger Badge:

• Badland Prairie Flora and Fauna
• What is a Butte?
• Fossils
• Listen!
• Prairie Dogs and Keystone Species
• Theodore Roosevelt and 1880’s Ranching

Remember:

Follow the speed limit and wear your seat belt! This park is in western North Dakota and will generally be accessed via private vehicle. Subsequently, you may be traveling some distance before you arrive and will tour the park in your vehicle or by bicycle. Please be courteous of other park visitors, and the beautiful wildlife and follow all road signs. Park rangers will enforce speed limits. Also, since you typically are on a scenic drive in the park, passengers might be getting out frequently. Please remember to buckle up the kids and yourself – each and every time. The remote location is absolute reason to avoid easily preventable injury.

Where to Stay

We didn’t have the opportunity to stay the night in this area, unfortunately. I think camping in the park would be a truly wonderful experience. It is a very peaceful, remote place and would be ideal for car camping. Please visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park website for further camping information. Some campsites may be reserved.

Where to Eat

The quaint town of Medora sits at the South Unit Visitor Center park entrance. With names like Theodore’s Dining Room, Cowboy Café, and Boots Bar & Grill, there are plenty of fantastic places to find a great burger in Medora! Our favorite stop was Medora Fudge and Ice Cream Depot!

When to Go

Summer months (June – August) offer the added opportunity to see the famed Medora Musical. Set outdoors, this musical show is fantastic fun for the family. Summer months are warm and dry, late June to early July would be ideal.