Tag Archives: holidays

Take the Polar Bear Plunge

You may have seen people recently congregating on the beach around the holidays, clad in bathing suits and trying to stifle their shivers. Excitement and nervousness floods the air, then suddenly, people make a mad dash for the water. “They’ve lost their minds!” you may have thought. Actually, they were probably just taking part in the local Polar Bear Plunge where participants hop into the freezing waters to see how long they can last. Some brave souls swim around for a bit (usually until they’re limbs are numb, which surprisingly doesn’t take too long), but often people just go in quick enough to immerse themselves once and then head straight for a warm towel.

People dressed as polar bears for the Polar Bear Plunge.

Polar Bear…Plunge. Get it? [Image: http://theweek.com/]

So where exactly did this quirky tradition originate from? It actually dates back to over 100 years ago in Scandinavian bathhouses where overheated sauna-goers would plunge into icy waters to get immediate relief (this can still be seen if you visit a banya or other type of bathhouse today). Now, however, it has transformed into a way to ring in the New Year, a way to challenge yourself, and a platform for raising money for various charities.

Cold man in Polar Bear Plunge.

Probably an appropriate reaction. [Image: http://www.seattle.gov/]

In the United States, the tradition dates back to the early 1900s. Boston is the oldest, starting in 1904, with Milwaukee’s Bradford Beach not far behind, beginning in 1916. They’re in plenty of other places, as well—especially around the New Year. Since 1993, Seattle has held an annual plunge; both Lake George and Coney Island in New York have plunges; there’s a plunge in Evergreen, Colorado; the plunge in Minnesota raises money for the Special Olympics; and there are also plunges in New Hampshire and New Jersey! Maryland’s plunge, called Plungapalooza and located in Sandy Point State Park, is the largest in the country. It has raised over $2 million for the Special Olympics and seen more than 7,400 participants in the past.

Even if you miss ringing in the new year with an icy swim, there are a few plunges that take place after the holidays. Long Beach, New York hosts one of the largest plunges on Super Bowl Sunday and donates all its proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. You can also head to Great Slave Lake in the Arctic Circle in March for “Freezin’ for a Reason.”

 Pat Hallor lays in the frigid ice filled water during his dip. The annual Polar Bear Plunge in Milwaukee was held at Bradford Beach on Wednesday, January 1, 2014. Photo by Mike De Sisti / MDESISTI@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

This picture gives us chills—literally. [Image: http://www.jsonline.com/]

If you’re looking for goals to add to your bucket list or are keen on swimming in chilly temperatures, then you should probably check out the Polar Bear Plunge. Download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to see what parks host them near you, too!

State and National Park Christmas Celebrations

Are you feeling the Christmas and holiday spirit yet? Many of us are (happily) cooped up, spending our days and nights preparing for the holiday later this week. The strong aroma of Christmas cookies wafts into our noses, carols passes through our eardrums, and lights dazzle us both inside and outside our homes—is there anything more exciting than the holiday season? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all, and arguably the best way to spend it is at a state park. Well, maybe we’re a little biased, but partaking in Christmas celebrations at a state park is absolutely a great way to pass some time! Here are just a few parks that are spreading Christmas cheer that you might want to make an appearance at.

Celebration of Lights at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, FL

Trees lit with Christmas lights.

Image: https://abidanshahdotcom.files.wordpress.com/

Take part in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s annual Celebration of Lights any day from December 19–December 24. If you happen to miss any of those days leading up to Christmas, then don’t worry—there’s an after-Christmas party on December 26! It’s a great time to connect with friends, both old and new.

For more info, call: (352) 628-5343 or (352) 628-5445 ext. 1006

Old World Christmas Events at Allaire State Park, NJ

Boy being kissed by a reindeer.

Pro tip: Look out for mistletoe. [Image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/]

Ever wonder about old Christmas traditions and how people used to celebrate throughout history? Well New Jersey’s Allaire State Park is hosting their annual Old World Christmas, which offers a blast from the past, at their quaint Allaire Village. Enjoy performances of “A Christmas Carol” as well as the stunning Christmas Lantern Tours.

For more info, call: (609) 984-1795, (609) 292-2994, or (609) 984-1795

Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park, MD

Polar Bear Plunge.

Looks, uh, fun? [Image: http://www.northbeachmd.org/]

It’s pretty likely that you’ve heard of the Polar Bear Plunge as it’s become a wintertime tradition for many daring individuals who don’t mind basking in frosty waters. The Special Olympics of Maryland accompanies others at Sandy Point State Park’s Polar Bear Plunge. Grab your bathing suit (and a warm, fuzzy towel for afterwards), and head to the beach this Christmas season!

For more info, call: (410) 242-1515

The Nation’s Christmas Tree at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA

The General Grant Tree.

We’re rubbing our necks just looking at this photo. What a tree! [Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

A visit to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park in its own is magical, but is there anything more seasonally appropriate than visiting the Nation’s Christmas Tree (also known as the General Grant Tree)? Probably not. Unfortunately the annual Trek to the Tree led by the Sanger Chamber of Commerce already passed (it happens on the second Saturday of December, so mark it on your calendars for next year!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the park and enjoy the sights anyway.

For more info, call: (559) 875-4575

These are just a few of the many ways that you can get involved at a state park this holiday season. So pack your Christmas cheer, download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, and get ready for some serious celebrating!

Looking for a Hot Cocoa Recipe?

After a long day spent out in the cold, you’ll be needing a mug of hot cocoa. While it’s easy to just scoop out the Swiss Miss and add a little hot water from the tea kettle, you should check out this hot cocoa recipe list. We think they’re all worth the extra effort. Just don’t forget to share with your friends!

Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix

Courtesy of Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

Mittened hands hold a red mug of hot cocoa recipe with a heart-shaped marshmallow

Image: weheartit.com

This hot cocoa recipe makes enough mix for around 9 servings. To save some of this cocoa mix for later, store in an airtight container at room temperature. It should keep for up to two months.


  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 ounces semi- or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt (or ¼ teaspoon kosher salt)


  1. Combine all the ingredients listed above in a food processor. Blend until powdery. (If you don’t have a food processor, chop or grate the chocolate until it’s very fine. Then mix this finely chopped chocolate into the remaining ingredients.)
  2. To make one serving of hot cocoa, heat 1 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat until steamy. (Almond, coconut, soy or cow’s milk are all fine to use.)
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of your hot chocolate mix to the warmed milk. Whisk over the heat for another minute, until the milk begins to simmer and mix is dissolved. (Store the rest of the dry hot cocoa mix in an airtight container.)
  4. Pour into a mug. Top with whipped cream and/or some wicked cute marshmallows.


  • Mexican Hot Chocolate: If you’d like to add some heat, add a pinch of chile powder, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon to the cocoa mix.
  • Mint Hot Chocolate: To give your hot cocoa a minty kick, add mint extract in place of vanilla extract in the cocoa mix.
  • Mocha Hot Chocolate: For a little buzz, add a few tablespoons of espresso powder to the cocoa mix. 

Lemongrass-Lavender White Hot Chocolate

Courtesy of Yvonne Ruperti at Serious Eats

Mug of white hot chocolate with lemongrass stalk and lavender

Image: Yvonne Ruperti

Looking for a completely new hot cocoa recipe this winter? We think this delicious white chocolate one fits the bill. This recipe makes enough for 2 servings. The question is then: to share or not to share?


  • 12 ounces whole milk (or if you’d like a richer texture, substitute half of the milk for half-and-half)
  • 1 small stalk lemongrass, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried lavender
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf, torn in half
  • ½ teaspoon zest from one small lime
  • 3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped


  1. In a small saucepan, heat milk, lemongrass, lavender, lime leaf and zest over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until you see bubbles forming around the edges.
  2. Remove heated milk mixture from heat and let steep 15 minutes.
  3. Strain milk, then return milk to saucepan. Add white chocolate and gently heat again over medium heat, stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is hot. Serve and then make all over again because it’s that delicious.

Vegan Chai Hot Chocolate

Courtesy of Lee Hersh at Fit Foodie Finds

Two mugs of hot chocolate

Image: fitfoodiefinds.com

Here’s our answer on how to drink hot cocoa without breaking your New Year’s resolutions of eating better and staying healthy. Seal the leftover chai spice mix in a container, and use next time you’re making oatmeal, french toast, or cookies! This recipe makes 2 servings.


  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 cups vanilla almond milk, sweetened
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder


  1. To make the chai spice, mix together the cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and ginger spices in a small bowl.
  2. Place one teaspoon of this chai spice in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the milk and cocoa powder to the saucepan as well. (Store the remaining chai spice mix in an airtight container.)
  3. Bring to a rolling boil and stir until spices and cocoa powder have dissolved.
  4. Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 – 5 minutes more, then serve.

Coconut Tres Leches Hot Chocolate

Courtesy of Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

White mug of hot cocoa topped with whipped cream

Image: www.melskitchencafe.com

With its blend of milk, coconut milk, and sweetened condensed milk, this coconut tres leches hot cocoa recipe knocks it outta the park. Gather three friends or pour the lot into a large thermos, since this recipe makes 4 servings.


  • 2 cups milk (you can use any kind of milk)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk, light or regular
  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (about ½ of the 14 ounce can)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Sweetened whipped cream (optional)
  • Chocolate shavings (optional)


  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. Whisk well to combine.
  2. Bring the milk mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Once simmering, whisk in the cocoa powder until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Serve the hot cocoa in mugs topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or a mountain of marshmallows.

Melted Hot Chocolate with Sea Salt Whipped Cream

Courtesy of Eva Kosmas Flores of Adventures in Cooking

Tall mug of hot chocolate surrounded by chocolate bars

Image: www.adventures-in-cooking.com

Need a bit of spoiling? Then this decadent hot chocolate is all you need. This recipe makes enough for 2 servings.


Sea Salt Chocolate Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt, plus an extra pinch for sprinkling

Melted Hot Cocoa

  • 8 squares (4 ounces) Dark 100% Cocoa Baker’s Chocolate
  • 2 squares (1 ounce) Semi-Sweet Baker’s Chocolate
  • 2 – 4 teaspoons honey (depending on how sweet or bitter you’d like your hot cocoa)
  • ¾ cup whole milk, at room temperature


To make the Sea Salt Chocolate Whipped Cream:

  1. Beat the cream and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium high speed until the cream holds a very soft
  2. Gently whisk in sea salt and cocoa powder until just mixed in. Cover and set aside.

To make the Melted Hot Cocoa:

  1. Melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler, stirring constantly.
  2. Add honey and milk to melted chocolate. Continue stirring until it’s one, warm fluid mixture.
  3. Pour hot cocoa into two serving glasses. Top with whipped cream and pinch of sea salt for garnish. Toast all your hard work and drink up!

First Day Hikes

There’s no better way to start 2015 than out on the trail. Originating in Massachusetts twenty years ago, First Day Hikes are now happening at state parks countrywide. At this past year’s First Day Hikes, 28,000 people hiked 66,811 miles in the state parks! Here are a few hikes that we’re making our New Year’s resolutions. We hope to see you trailside!

New Hampshire

This summer, we blogged about how much we love Monadnock State Park. Whether it’s your first time or fiftieth time to the park, we definitely recommend joining them for their First Day Hike up the Parker Trail. It’s a moderate hike, just under 3 miles in length. The trail skirts Poole Reservoir, and then follows an old stone wall through the woods. Depending on weather and participant enthusiasm, this hike may continue on to the “Little Mountain” scenic vista for views at the summit.

State park visitors hike along in the snow by a yellow mansion and a cove

First Day Hike at Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion State Historic Site [Image: www.nhstateparks.org]

If you’d rather stroll along a harbor, head to Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion State Historic Site. They will be taking guests along the Little Harbor Loop Trail, an easy hike that’s just 1.5 miles in length. The trail travels through beautiful mixed-growth woods, and there are numerous scenic overlooks of the harbor and the mansion.

South Dakota

Why hike when you can snowshoe? At Lake Herman State Park, the First Day Snowshoe Hike will include two intro snowshoe sessions. Open to all skill and age levels, there are snowshoes available to borrow for free for those who don’t already own a pair. There will also be a snowshoe stomp at Fort Sisseton Historic State Park.

Woman snowshoes on a very snowy trail in the mountains

Hit the trails this New Year’s Day! [Image: Thomas DeSisto]

The Creekside Stroll First Day Hike at Custer State Park is perfect for anyone looking to spot wildlife on New Year’s Day. On this two-mile jaunt that follows the Grace Coolidge Creek, learn about the area’s flora and fauna. Keep your eyes peeled for the wild buffalo herd that roams the park! If your heart is set on a larger hike, head to Good Earth State Park at Blood Run, Oakwood Lakes State Park, or Pease Creek Recreation Area. Looking to test your navigation skills? Grab your boots, skis, or snowshoes and meet at Newton Hills State Park for a First Day Geocaching Hiking.


We are thrilled about all of the First Day Hikes happening across Virginia! At each park, the first 100 attendees will receive a special First Day Hike bumper sticker. Some of our favorites include the hike at Occoneechee State Park, which will follow the Old Plantation Trail. While on the trail, hikers can learn about the Occoneechee Plantation and view the terrace gardens. The First Day GPS Poker Hike happening at Twin Lake State Parks is perfect for those looking for a new kind of challenge. Check-in at the main office and receive a GPS coordinate and playing card. At each location throughout the park, players will receive another card. Once finished, head back to the office and log your poker hand. A prize will be rewarded to the hiker with the best poker hand! We’re also excited about the Invisible Animals edition of a First Day Hike happening at Holliday Lake State Park. While the park appears empty in wintertime, on this guided hike discover wildlife clues, such as bear tracks, turkey scrapes, squirrel nests, and more.


A girl takes photos of wild horses in a grassy field on an overcast day

Begin 2015 with a wild horse sighting at Paynes Prairie State Park. [Image: www.floridarambler.com]

Florida State Parks have lined up plenty of ways to hit the trail on January 1st. With opportunities to see resident wildlife, like sandhill cranes, alligators, bison, and wild horses, you won’t want to miss the one-mile First Day Hike through Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. This hike is suitable for all ability levels, just remember to bring your binoculars! If you’d like your dog to tag along, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is hosting a pet-friendly First Day Hike along the Trestle Point and Pine Ridge Trails. This hike will travel through a shaded hammock by the river, and then traverse the park’s fabulous sandhills and pinewoods. Use your Pocket Ranger® app to snap photos, mark waypoints, and share with other First Day hikers via email, Facebook, or Twitter!


For beautiful backcountry hiking in Georgia, Don Carter State Park will be taking First Day hikers on a two-mile cross-country adventure, following old road beds, ridges, hills and valleys. At Panola Mountain State Park, commence your journey by writing and then burning last year’s burdens. After a brisk hike to the Panola Mountain summit, there will be a celebratory campfire, s’mores and hot chocolate. As the sun sets, join historic figures on a twilight First Day Hike at Fort King George Historic Site. Historical re-enactors will share stories, tidbits, and their own take on New Year’s resolutions on this half-mile guided nature hike.


A group of snowshoers in the snowy woods

Image: www.outdoors.org

Bid 2014 adieu on a Last Night Hike at Ohiopyle State Park. Hikers will meet at the Sugarloaf warming hut and hike (or snowshoe) their way into the New Year. If you’re looking to do some birdwatching on New Year’s Day, sign up for the hike at Pymatuning State Park. A park guide will be on hand to help hikers identify plants and birds. The First Day Hike at Nescopeck State Park will be guided by a conservation volunteer, and will follow the beautiful Creekside and Woodland Way Trails for 4.5 miles. This hike is perfect for anyone looking to spend some extended time in the woods on New Year’s Day.

These are just a few of the many First Day Hikes happening countrywide on January 1, 2015. Use the Events Calendar feature on any of our Pocket Ranger® apps to find a hike near you.

Happy New Year!

Gifts for Outdoor Enthusiasts

On the hunt for great holiday gifts for the outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Look no further than our Pocket Ranger® Gear Store! We’ve combed through our inventory to help you narrow down the top gifts that are sure to make any “outdoorsy” person merry.

Stocking Stuffers

We’ve got plenty of steals for under $20 that will fill up those stockings. This time of year, everyone is wishing for a new pair of mittens or gloves, and we’ve got plenty to choose from! We can’t resist this knitted pair with pink squirrels on them.

A collage of gifts for outdoor enthusiasts including socks, ninja mask, mittens, and survival gear

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

Instead of another boring scarf gift, why not a ninja mask, which we think is perfect for a day spent on the slopes. Follow it up with a pair of SmartWool socks, which are legendary for retaining warmth and shape. We also recommend tucking some survival gear into those stockings. The Ultimate Survival Technologies ParaKnife Survival Kit 3.0 includes a 3-inch tang knife, whistle, bubble compass, spark wheel, and tinder-starter all encased in an easy-to-pack nylon sheath.


Tubbs Womens Snowshoes

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

For those times when hitting the slopes is too much of a hassle, snowshoeing is the answer. Tubbs is renowned for their quality snowshoes, and their Frontier series is no different. With Quick-Step binding, it’s easy to slide into these snowshoes and begin your trek outdoors. The bindings are adjustable, and because they perfectly center your boot, you get more directional stability and safety. The slightly upturned frame at the back of the snowshoe reduces musculoskeletal impact. Tubbs Frontier Snowshoes come in both men’s and women’s sizes in our Gear Store.

Down Parkas

Truth be told, it was hard to pick just two winter coats from the hundreds we have available in the Gear Store. We know that warmth is priority #1 for anyone venturing into the outdoors this winter, and we have both down and synthetic fiber jackets in stock.

Two down parkas for men and women

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

Our Mountain Hardwear Downtown II Down Coat for women is warm enough for lengthy adventures spent outdoors and yet classy enough to wear out on the town. Water-resistant and lined with high-pile Volboa fleece, this coat’s extra-long cut gives you lots of coverage. For men, we like the Craghoppers Cleveland Jacket, which keeps you warm and dry thanks to its AquaDry waterproof membrane. Roomy enough to wear over a sweater and featuring a removable hood, we think this could be someone’s new go-to, three-season jacket.

Camping Gear

From tents to sleeping bags, our Gear Store has got you covered. Give the backpacker on your list a quality headlamp to see them through all those starry (or stormy!) nights. The Mammut X-Shot Headlamp has a combination of floodlight and spotlight LED bulbs with adjustable brightness settings. We also think a portable water filtration system, like the Katadyn Mini Ceramic Microfilter looks nice all wrapped up with a bow.

A collage of camping gear, including a tent, water purifier, headlamp and sleeping pad

Image: pocketrangerblog.com/gear-store

Most already have a favorite sleeping bag, but a sleeping pad is the key to a good night’s rest on the trail. We’ve got an array of sleeping pads available, such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Trekker Sleeping Pad. Wanting to get a big ticket item for that serious alpine adventurer on your list? We think they’ll love a featherweight Mountain Hardwear EV2 Tent. Made for camping in all four seasons, this tent’s single-walled Evolution Tension Arch design can withstand the worst snow and wind.

Pocket Ranger® Apps

Feeling crunched for time? The most thoughtful gift of all may be just a download away! Download our free Pocket Ranger® apps onto any mobile device, so the lucky recipient will have complete access to great features, like Advanced GPS Mapping, GPS Tours, waypoint marking, and more!

Winter Events at the State Parks

Take a break from all that holiday shopping, and make merry at one of these winter events in the state parks. From fruitcake chucking to solstice night hiking, bundle up because we’ve got lots of great ways for you to get outdoors and make the most of this December!

New York

Men with muskets perform a Christmas tradition at night

The grand feu de joi [Image: www.wnypapers.com]

The Castle by Candlelight
Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site
December 6, 2014

The windows and walkways of this beautiful, 288-year old French castle will be lit for the annual Castle by Candlelight night. Located within the Old Fort Niagara Historic Site, soldiers will perform a grand “feu de joi” (firing of joy) with musket- and cannon-fire in honor of the holidays. Fifes and drums will play historic tunes, and chefs will prepare a feast of traditional holiday fare. Characters in period dress will share tales about wintertime in the 18th century, and also demonstrate woodworking and hornsmithing. Head to the Fort’s Log Cabin for hot beverages and more live holiday music.


Mound Bottom landscape covered with snow

Wintertime at Mound Bottom [Image: www.nativehistoryassociation.org]

Cold Moon Tour of Mound Bottom
Harpeth River State Park
December 6, 2014

Dating back to A.D. 1100 and 1300, Mound Bottom is one of the largest prehistoric mound groups built by early Native Americans. Guided by prehistoric archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf, hikers will learn about the historical significance of the site while watching the full moon rise. This two-hour tour at Harpeth River State Park will traverse moderately steep terrain, so make sure to wear comfortable hiking shoes and dress warmly. Use your Pocket Ranger® app to mark waypoints!


A person lights a bonfire outside in the wintertime

Learn how to light a survival fire [Image: boreal.net]

Winter Survival Class
DeSoto State Park
December 6 – 7, 2014

This exciting, weekend-long Winter Survival Class at DeSoto State Park will help you get a handle on the ins and outs of weathering the winter in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Topics ranging from clothing, shelter, fire, and rescue will be covered. This class is provided by the non-profit One World Adventure Company, and requires registration and a fee to participate.


Troops collide at the Winter Muster in the woods

Troops collide at the Winter Muster [Image: redtri.com]

150th Winter Muster
Fort McAllister State Park
December 13, 2014

150 years ago, General Sherman successfully took Fort McAllister from the Confederates. Volunteers will reenact this significant Civil War event that marked the end of Sherman’s March. Skirmishes, drills and other living history interpretive programs will take place around Fort McAllister State Park. The final battle reenactment will occur at the end of the day.


A trail winds through the snow woods

Pike Lake Trail [Image: travelingted.com]

Winter Solstice Night Hike
Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit
December 19, 2014

Celebrate the winter solstice with your family at Kettle Moraine State Forest! The winter solstice marks the longest night of the year. Before heading into the woods, cozy up by the fire where rangers will share the history of solstice traditions. While hiking through the dark woods of the Zillmer Trails Area, keep an eye out for wildlife!


A man tosses a fruitcake in a contest

Try your hand at the National Fruitcake Fling! [Image: siouxcityjournal.com]

Ponca State Park
December 27, 2014

With so many free winter activities at this year’s Winterfest, there’s no excuse for missing out! At Ponca State Park, get moving in the 3K Quest for the Yule Log. Afterwards, hitch a ride on one of the lighted hayrack rides. There will also be seasonal crafts, cookie decorating, good eats, and a bonfire. The National Fruitcake Fling is a favorite attraction at the festival. All fruitcakes are baked using ingredients that are safe for wildlife to eat, making them the perfect treat for the park’s furred and feathered residents.

July’s Best State Park Events

park rangers, demos, festival, Eno River, state park, kids

Image: www.ncparks.gov

July is bursting with great events (and fireworks!) at state parks around the country. We’ve combed through the event calendars and uncovered the ones that you won’t want to miss:

Three Rivers Regatta
Point State Park, Pennsylvania
July 2 – 4, 2014

Three Rivers Regatta, Point State Park, Pennsylvania, crowd, boats, water, festival

Three Rivers Regatta [Image: www.brooklineconnection.com]

Point State Park is the place to be this summer! Just a few weeks after holding the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Point State Park gears up for another colossal event: the Three Rivers Regatta. Work on your summer tan while at Regatta Beach (one of only two makeshift inner city beaches in the world), then mosey on over to the larger-than-life replica of the Battle of Ft. McHenry made entirely of sand. Don’t blink or you could miss the powerboat races, where boats frequently top speeds of 125 mph!

Looking for more excitement? This year, the Regatta is hosting the XPogo World Championships in addition to BMX and agility dog stunt shows. A fan favorite is “Anything that Floats,” a parade of handmade, crazily decorated parade floats that bob down the river. This year’s headliners include American rock singer Steve Augeri, former lead vocalist for the rock group Journey, jazz musician Kenny Blake, and Beatlemania Magic. The Regatta culminates with Pittsburgh’s Official 4th of July Celebration fireworks, widely considered to be one of the Top 10 Fourth of July fireworks displays in the country. And did we mention that all of this fun is free? There is no admission fee and no charge for any of the Regatta’s concerts, acts, activities, or events!


Festival for the Eno
Durham City Park, North Carolina
July 4 – 5, 2014

Festival for the Eno, drums, band, live music, North Carolina, crowd, summer, tents

Festival for the Eno [Image: blog.fmrealty.com]

Looking for fantastic music this Independence Day weekend? Check out the 35th Annual Festival for the Eno in Durham, North Carolina. With over 65 acts on four stages, there’s sure to be something that strikes your fancy. All proceeds of ticket sales go towards funding important conservation of the Eno River Basin. An assortment of local food trucks will be serving up some great bites, and the Sweetwater Beer Garden at the heart of the festival will be happy to pour you a local brew. Be sure to rent a kayak or canoe so you can spend some quality time paddling around on the festival’s namesake! Need a place to crash for the night? Using Pocket Ranger®’s Official Guide for North Carolina State Parks, you can easily rent a campsite or vacation cabin at Eno River State Park.


World Championship of Catfishing & Independence Day Celebration
Pickwick Landing State Park, Tennessee
July 4 – 6, 2014

Catfish, World Championship, Tennessee, fishermen, summer

World Championship of Catfishing [Image: www.tnvacation.com]

Catfish, fireworks, bluegrass, golf. What better way to celebrate Independence Day? Pickwick Landing State Park will present an excellent fireworks display over Pickwick Lake on July 4th. Spend the night at Pickwick Landing’s inn, so you can tee up at the golf course or lounge at the beach bright and early the next day.

Nearby Savannah, Tennessee, also known as “Catfish Capital of the World,” is currently hosting the National Catfish Derby. Through July 5, any catfish caught in the Tennessee River is eligible to win. (Don’t forget to upload photos of your own monster catch onto Pocket Ranger Trophy Case®!) On July 6, the World Championship of Catfishing will have its final weigh-in at Pickwick Landing State Park with cash and prizes awarded to the winner. Not so interested in noodling for your own catfish? Then stick around for the after-party for free catfish and live music. Or grab a lawn chair and head to the 35th Annual Savannah Bluegrass Festival to listen to the best that Tennessee has to offer.


11th Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival
Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio
July 12 – 13, 2014

Toledo Lighthouse, girl, sunglasses, water, Lake Erie, lighthouse

Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival [Image: www.toledoblade.com]

Looking to tour the inside of a 100-year old lighthouse this summer? Head to the 11th Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival at Maumee Bay State Park! Since Toledo Lighthouse remains active, this festival is one of only two times annually that the lighthouse is open to visitors. Afterwards, visit the Nautical Village arts & crafts show to pick up some lighthouse-inspired souvenirs and try your luck at the silent auction. With over 200 items at the auction, you’re bound to win something! Help yourself to delicious food like brats, homemade fries, shrimp, and funnel cake while listening to Jimmy Buffet-style musical entertainment at the park’s amphitheatre. And while you can’t spend the night in the lighthouse, you can reserve a campsite (or a yurt!) at Maumee Bay State Park.


Bannack Days
Bannack State Park, Montana
July 19 – 20, 2014

Bannack Days, Montana, collage, pioneers, old, horses, gunfight

Bannack Days [Image: blog.rv.net]

A fun-filled weekend celebrating 152 years of history, Bannack Days at Bannack State Park is something you don’t want to miss! Learn how to shoot a black-powder rifle, pan for gold, and hand-dip a souvenir candle. Watch the local blacksmith forge incredible works of art and take a wagon ride along Bannack’s historic main street. Get ready for good eats like ice cream, kettle corn, fry bread, corn on the cob, and fresh lemonade. Throughout both days, there will be plenty of live bluegrass, gospel, and old-time fiddler music. And keep your eyes peeled for a few staged gunfights!


4th Annual Wakonda Indian Festival
Glen Elder State Park, Kansas
July 19 – 20, 2014

Wakonda Indian Festival, Native American, dance, feathers, tribal dress, haybale

Wakonda Indian Festival [Image: www.sparkpeople.com]

Dancing, drumming, storytelling: Learn all about Native American culture firsthand at the 4th Annual Wakonda Indian Festival at Glen Elder State Park. Waconda Lake was once a spring, believed to hold great healing powers. On the shores of this lake, there will be traditional and contemporary Native American drumming and dances, such as the Hoop Dance and Crow Hop Dance. Stories and legends will be told by master storyteller Ron Brave in the festival’s tipi. Help yourself to delicious Indian tacos, fry bread, and buffalo burgers, and browse the fine silverwork, leatherwork, jewelry, and dreamcatchers on display. Since it’s sure to be a bit warm that day, bring along a bathing suit so you can take a dip in Waconda Lake.