Tag Archives: Virginia

Best Autumnal Scenic Drives

Watching the leaves change color is a special part of the year that any outdoor enthusiast can enjoy, whether its from the comfort of their car or with the accompaniment of a cozy pair of hiking boots. It’s as if nature understands that once Labor Day passes, autumn and its gorgeous foliage is pretty much here to take over. Well we’re standing here with our arms wide open to welcome to much-needed end of the heat! Here are some scenic drives that you can take this fall to watch nature do it’s thing and enjoy the leaves as they change color.

Hudson River Valley, New York

Leaves changing in the fall at Hudson River Valley with bridges in the background.

Explore the gorgeous Hudson River Valley. [Image: https://goingplacesnearandfar.files.wordpress.com/]

Rolling hills, access to New York’s serene beauty, and a bird’s eye view of the expansive Hudson River makes a drive through Hudson Valley a worthwhile autumn treat. Extending 150-miles out of the edge of Manhattan, you’ll be able to see a range of the state across ten counties (Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Greene, Columbia, Albany, and Rensselaer). Along the way, find a local farm to enjoy some apple or pumpkin picking!

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Changing leaves in Harpers Ferry with two bridges.

Fall foliage in Harpers Ferry is a must-see. [Image: http://travelchannel.sndimg.com/]

West Virginia is well known for how it transforms come autumn. Knowing this, there are multiple tours that visitors can partake in to explore the state’s unique look. The Golden Gateway Tour traverses through Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to showcase its autumnal beauty. Once there, guests can take a dip in the mineral rich water at Berkeley Springs State Park or travel further to truly escape reality at Cacapon Resort State Park.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Leaves changing around a parkway.

A serene drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is just what the doctor ordered. [Image: http://www.blueridgeparkwaydaily.com/]

Known to some as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway spans from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia 469-miles into Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. It follows the Appalachian Mountain chain along this beautiful highway and features more than 100 different species of tree.

Columbia River Highway, Oregon

Changing leaves around a moss-covered highway.

Let the Columbia River Highway take your breath away this fall. [Image: http://www.buckyandhisbike.net/]

The 75-mile Columbia River Highway was built in 1913 to highlight the natural beauty of the Oregon area. Not surprisingly, it’s an especially perfect place to visit to see the changing foliage. From the 900-foot cliffs it winds through, it overlooks expansive valleys and a lulling river. While there, make sure you check out the breathtaking 620-foot Multnomah Falls from Ainsworth State Park!

Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico

A road leading into a beautiful town in New Mexico surrounded by changing leaves.

Get away from reality at the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico. [Image: http://www.davidmixner.com/]

If you have a preference for stunning aspens, then you might want to head to Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which loops 83-miles to and from Taos. Follow this route around New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak, and watch the leaves change from yellow to dark orange.

Download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to explore the changing fall foliage near you. But be quick, because autumn slips into winter suddenly and quickly!

Kick Off Summer at National Kids to Parks Day

Get the whole family outdoors at the upcoming 5th Annual National Kids to the Parks Day! On May 16th, America’s state parks partner with the National Park Trust to host this nationwide day of outdoor play. Just a week before the official start of summer, this is a perfect day to explore and discover favorite local, state and national parks and public lands. From scavenger hunts to bird-watching, these state parks are hosting great Kids to Parks Day events:

Nature Hikes & Scavenger Hunts

A family goes hiking in Shenandoah. A great place to go for National Kids to Parks Day [Image: www.goshenandoah.com]

Image: www.goshenandoah.com

Specifically designed with the whole family in mind, the James River State Park’s Scavenger Hunt has 20 items participants have to track down. Winners will get a ride on the park’s Tye Overlook wagon for free that evening! Or learn about Leave No Trace Principles and hunt out all things that shouldn’t be on the trail on Shenandoah State Park’s “Unnatural Hike.”

Join the Lake Bistineau State Park’s Nature Hike for a memorable wilderness experience in the park’s upland mixed hardwood forest, open waters, and stands of cypress and tupelo trees. Stay the night in one of this Louisiana state park’s cabins or campsites, so you can get out on the lake in a canoe or kayak the next day!

At Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in New York, walk the towpath trails on a nature walk, and learn more about native species of birds, animals, plants and flowers. We recommend packing a lunch; there’s nothing better than having a picnic by the Aqueduct Boat Launch or the Yankee Hill Lock!

Bird-watching & Gardening

Kids birdwatching with binoculars [Image: kidsactivitiesblog.com]

Image: kidsactivitiesblog.com

Go birding at the beautiful lagoons and shoreline of Louisiana’s Grand Isle State Park. Resident bird species include a variety of songbirds and shorebirds, such as shearwaters, pelicans, herons, and cormorants. At Leesylvania State Park in Virginia, check out the Osprey Observation. Rangers will be on hand to answer all your questions about these magnificent birds of prey.

The Bristol Bird Club of Virginia will lead a special family birding session at Natural Tunnel State Park. From old growth forest to grassy area, discover all kinds of birds that live in the park’s four different habitats. Or spend the afternoon in the park’s community garden! Alongside the Scott County Master Gardeners, learn more about gardening while weeding and planting.

In Missouri, get down in the dirt at Mudpie Magic at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park! Make mudpies, dig in the dirt, explore rotten logs, and catch crawdads. There are many natural water park features at this state park, so take a dive into the river to rinse off! Or test your birding skills and so much more at Trail of Tears State Park. Join the Birder ID hike and scavenger hunt, and stick around for the “Eggstravaganza” egg hunt and egg quiz challenge at 7:30PM.

Arts & Crafts

Kids flying kites in park [Image: www.kitesclub.com/the-benefits-of-kite-flying-25.html]

Image: www.kitesclub.com/the-benefits-of-kite-flying-25.html

Learn the fascinating art of letterboxing at Shenandoah River State Park’s Letterboxing Workshop! Originating in England, letterboxing involves puzzle-solving and is a bit like geocaching. At this workshop, make your own rubber stamp and then go on a hike to discover your first letterbox.

Go fly at kite at Harry S. Truman State Park’s 3rd Annual Kid’s Kite Day! Park staff will show kids (and kids at heart!) how to assemble and decorate their very own kite. While the glue dries, settle down for a picnic or take some of the park’s example kites for a test flight.

Bluebirds are returning to Missouri on their great migration north. At Pomme De Terre State Park, learn how to build a bird house for Missouri’s state bird. All materials and tools will be provided at this event. Just bring your creativity!

5K & 10K Runs


Looking to keep a brisker pace on National Kids to Parks Day? Join families at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Run Wild – “A Run for Wildlife!” Proceeds raised from the 10K, 5K, and Kids Run all benefit Nebraska’s wildlife. Both the 10K and 5K take runners through a scenic, naturally challenging trail. The 1-mile Kids Run is perfect for kids ages 12 and under, and parents can run alongside young children. Since none of the events are timed this year, everyone is a winner! Dressing like a wild animal for this event is strongly encouraged. Afterwards, celebrate the day with a picnic, face-painting, fishing, and touring the live animal exhibits.

Families that visit the state and national parks on Kids to the Parks Day are encouraged to submit photos of their adventures to Buddy@BuddyBison.org for possible inclusion in the National Park Trust’s commemorative map. Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app for more information about trails, campground reservations, and more!

Five Bike Races in State Parks

Recently the Red Hook Crit came to Brooklyn, kicking off the bike season in an exciting way. A crit (or criterium) is a bike race where urban cyclists and messengers can compete against pros while racing on fixed gear bikes that have no brakes in a closed course. It’s an exhilarating show of street cycling skills, fitness, and endurance that makes crowds and participants alike giddy with bike-citement.

Female bicycle racer with her hands in the air as she wins the women's division of the 2015 Red Hook Crit.

Red Hook Crit Women’s Crit winner, Ainara Elbusto Arteaga. [Image: redhookcrit.com]

This year’s Red Hook Crit was on a warm, clear night and showcased impressive female and male cyclists from around the world. The 24 lady riders biked intensely for 18 laps (approximately 14 miles) while the 50 male cyclists gave it their all for 24 laps (almost 19 miles). Just like any sporting event, the energy was addictive and full of spectators cheering, jeering, and chanting. Whether you’re a beginning cyclist, seasoned pro, or haven’t ridden a bike in years, a bike race is an exciting event to take advantage of seeing. Here are five of the many that take place in state parks across the country.

Alafia Class Off-Road Mountain Bike Race

Two men on bikes in the woods.

Racers in the Alafia Class Off-Road Mountain Bike Race. [Image: www.friendsofalafia.org/park-news/item/5-alafia-classic-mtb-race]

Located in Florida’s Alafia River State Park, the Alafia Class Off-Road Mountain Bike Race is a grueling yet entertaining six-hour race. It accommodates both beginners and those trying to beat a personal record with “serious” (Red Trail) and “fun” (Corporate Course) racing categories. Teams of up to three people can join, or riders can take on the challenge by themselves. The race recently passed on April 12th, but that means you have plenty of time to prepare for next year’s event.

New River Trail Challenge Triathlon

A group of cyclists heading out of the starting line for a race.

And they’re off! Cyclists competing in the New River Trail Challenge Triathlon. [Image: www.virginiaoutdoors.com/article/more/5469]

Okay, so this isn’t just a bike race, but that makes it even cooler. The New River Trail Challenge Triathlon in Virginia is a 40-mile bike ride that becomes a 12-mile kayak race and ends with a half marathon. This ultimate test of endurance takes place in the New River Trail State Park and welcomes participants of all levels by offering different age brackets and categories for competitors to choose from. Bring your tent and camp out the weekend of September 19th for this thrilling event!

Dinoseries

A woman riding on a muddy path.

Getting down and dirty in the Dinoseries. [Image: www.facebook.com/pages/DINO-Mountain-Biking/225201330950849]

The Dinoseries in Indiana’s Versailles State Park is one of the most invigorating mountain bike races around. The bike trails are built by cyclists with fellow cyclists in mind and offer phenomenal views, challenging climbs, and gratifying downhills. The entire lap length is about ten miles long and the race takes place on July 19th.

Bring it on at Bellevue

A group of men and women in biking outfits on bikes.

A group of cyclists at Bring it on at Bellevue. [Image: www.destateparks.com/adventure-race/media/index.asp]

Delaware’s Bellevue State Park offers Bring it on at Bellevue where competitors are sure to get more than a little dirty. It’s a bike and running race on paved and unpaved trails featuring team challenges, crawls, water activities, and so much more. The 2014 race was cancelled, but stay tuned on their website for news of an upcoming event.

Bump N Grind

Riders biking up a big hill in the woods.

Tackling a hill in the Bump N Grind. [Image: www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2013/05/bump_n_grind_–_the_super_bowl.html]

One of the top mountain biking races in the country, Alabama’s Bump N Grind is a multi-day race with a whole slew of different areas of expertise to enjoy. Air downhill, cross-country, short track, and more races are available to sign up for. The competition is coming up on May 30th-May 31st at the beautiful Oak Mountain State Park.

These are just a few of the many bike races available at a state park and barely scratch the surface of the options available, more of which can be discovered by using our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps. Now is the perfect time to start biking, so head over to our Gear Store for any of your biking needs and get out on the saddle as soon as possible!

Look to the Skies! Birding at the State Parks

This May, look to the skies! Springtime marks a massive migration for hundreds of bird species in North America. Why migrate? The birds migrated to warmer climates for the winter; in the spring, these same birds make their way back up north to their breeding grounds.

Group of birders look through binoculars [Image: archive.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120122]

Join other bird enthusiasts at the state parks this May! [Image: archive.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120122]

The first groups of birds to start heading north are waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans). Some birds of prey, such as bald eagles and red-shouldered hawks begin moving north in early spring, as well as blackbirds and sparrows. In April and May, shorebirds (sandpipers and plovers) and songbirds (warblers, orioles, thrushes) begin their migration north. Warblers are a favorite of birders, and in certain areas of the country, you may be able to see more than 30 species of these colorful songbirds at one time!

The state parks are gearing up for this mass bird migration with plenty of events. Pack your binoculars, download the Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed app, and head to one of these great birding opportunities near you.

Alabama

Wings Over Oak Mountain
May 1st – May 3rd, 2015
Oak Mountain State Park

Spend the whole weekend with fellow birders at the exciting Wings Over Oak Mountain event at Oak Mountain State Park. This three-day event’s itinerary includes live bird of prey programs, guided birding tours, and educational programs that focus on habitat diversity, bird adaptation, and more. Wings Over Oak Mountain is perfect for all levels of birders; on any of the guided tours, park staff will help birders beef up their avian know-how, from distinguishing bird calls to pinpointing key habitat. The event’s registration fee includes breakfast and a wine tasting from Alabama’s own vineyard, Vizzini Farms Winery.

Learn the difference between a fox sparrow and a song sparrow at a birding event at the state parks! [Image: www.cleveland.com/neobirding]

Learn the difference between a fox sparrow and a song sparrow at a birding event at the state parks! [Image: www.cleveland.com/neobirding]

Pennsylvania 

Festival of the Birds at Presque Isle
May 8th – May 10th
Presque Isle State Park

Catch a multitude of birds migrating along the southern shore of Lake Erie at the weekend-long Festival of the Birds at Presque Isle State Park. More than 320 species of bird have been seen flying through the park, including warblers and other songbirds. At the park’s Gull Point, a sand plain sanctuary, look for migrant shorebirds and terns. George Armistead is this year’s keynote speaker, and every full-weekend registrant will receive a copy of his book, ABA Field Guide to Birds of Pennsylvania. To keep away the crowds, this festival is limited to 150 participants, so make sure to register soon!

Virginia

Hungry Mother State Park Birding Adventure
May 1st – May 3rd
Hungry Mother State Park

Outfit your entire family with binoculars for the family-friendly Hungry Mother State Park Birding Adventure! Ready yourself for three whole days of birding activities and programs for all skill levels, including a live birds of prey show, guided bird hikes, nighttime owl prowls, avian arts & crafts, and kayak bird tours. Richard Moncrief of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics will lead an informative workshop about binoculars: how they work, how to use them, and how to choose the best model for where you go birding.

If you can’t make the entire weekend, but would still like to get your family out birding, join the Family Bird Hike on May 16th at Hungry Mother State Park. Bird enthusiast and master naturalist Randy Smith will lead an informative bird hike through the park. This is a great way for people of all ages to learn the basics about birding.

Four species of North American warblers [blog.allaboutbirds.org]

Four species of North American warblers [blog.allaboutbirds.org]

Ohio

Camping is for the Birds
May 8th – May 10th
Caesar Creek State Park

Celebrate the annual spring migration at Caesar Creek State Park’s Camping is for the Birds! Camp at the Caesar Creek campgrounds, so you won’t miss any of the birding activities the weekend has to offer. Continuous bird banding demonstrations will take place at the Visitor Center, and park naturalists will lead guided birding hikes. See live raptors up close and personal at the park’s birds of prey program, and join in the “Build Your Own Bluebird Box” workshop! Space is limited, so call the Nature Center for reservations and more information: (513) 897-2437.

Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB)
May 8th – May 17th
Maumee Bay State Park

Designated the Warbler Capital of the World, witness the annual songbird migration at this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding! Northwest Ohio becomes a hub for birders every year because hundreds of bird species fly through the area on their journey north. If you are looking for birding heaven, Maumee Bay State Park is right at the heart of the migration route, and a great place to spend the day (and night!) ticking away some elusive species on your life-list. Over the course of the week, birders will see migrating shorebirds, cuckoos, hummingbirds, buntings, thrushes, flycatchers, up to 30 species of warblers and more! In addition to many guided bird hikes and kayak/canoe tours, there will be an optics exhibit, naturalist-led bird banding, a birder’s marketplace, nature photography programs, and a bird tattoo contest.

A flock of birds flies away at sunset [Image: www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/this-just-in/a-race-between-moths-and-songbirds]

Image: www.earthrangers.com/wildwire/this-just-in/a-race-between-moths-and-songbirds

Looking for ways to help the birds migrating through your own backyard?

  • Create backyard habitat for the birds by planting native grasses, flowers and shrubs.
  • Refrain from using toxic pesticides outside. These pesticides pollute waterways and reduce insects that birds need to survive.
  • Keep your cat indoors! Domestic cats have contributed to the extinction of 33 species of bird worldwide. The Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that free-roaming domestic cats kill billions of birds every year in the United States.
  • Prevent birds from striking your windows by placing large stickers on them. The sticker breaks up the bright reflection of the sun, so the birds can see that the window is not a viable flyway.
  • Drink bird-friendly coffee! By drinking certified shade-grown coffee you are ensuring conservation of vital bird habitat.

Want to keep track of your bird sightings using just your smartphone? Download your state’s free Pocket Ranger® app to easily locate birding locations, identify species, and send your saved waypoints via email, Facebook or Twitter to other birders. And don’t forget to document and share all of your birding discoveries via the free Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed app, a social network just for bird enthusiasts!

Beautiful Wildflower Hikes

Image: www.pinterest.com/pin/379850549794553932/

Image: www.pinterest.com/pin/379850549794553932

Wildflowers are to spring as snow is to winter. When we’re hiking along, wildflowers often surprise us with their abundance— such a rare sight, almost refreshing, after a long ungodly winter. Typically wildflowers last from March to August, sometimes year-round in warmer climates. They exist in all their purples, blues, reds, pinks and yellows. The term “wild” comes from their exotic quality, since they grow without human care, but spread thanks to the birds and the bees. We’ve gathered a list of beautiful wildflowers hikes from lesser known national and state parks with great views, but smaller crowds. That means more space to frolic and dance near the wildflower fields—but be careful not to trample on them.

Missouri

Monkshood [Image:orums.steves-digicams.com]

Monkshood [Image:orums.steves-digicams.com]

Ozark National Scenic Riverways is home to some of the rarest wildflowers. About a dozen plant species are unique to Ozarks. Just last year they discovered a rare wildflower never seen in Missouri, called monkshood. Wildflowers can be seen from the first spring blooms to the last blooms in November. For beginners, some of the most common and easiest wildflowers to spot are the purple coneflowers, fire pinks, larkspurs, and columbines. One early bloomer to keep in mind is the Ozarks Wild Crocus, not found elsewhere, and seen from April to May in heavy forested areas, near rivers and tributaries. The rein orchid is another beauty of greenish yellow flowers, appearing from June to July, reaching two feet in height. From the name alone we can tell, the showy lady’s slipper is a magnificent beauty. This orchid is visible from May until early June, and is usually found on the bottom of limestone bluffs along small streams and in ferns.

North Carolina

Craggy Gardens in Blue Parkway [www.randmcnally-temp.s3.amazonaws.com/pois/images/28bb1174e74d4c99bfeba708c60bcbb4.jpg]

Craggy Gardens in Blue Parkway [www.randmcnally-temp.s3.amazonaws.com]

The flora of Blue Ridge Parkway is not to be missed. This world-renowned park is home to 1,400 species of plants and diverse micro-habits. Due to a wide range in elevation from high to low, visitors can enjoy a variety of wildflowers from March to October. But the best time to see an array of species is early April to May when the canopy trees start to leaf out. Summer wildflowers are blooming in the valleys while spring wildflowers bloom in the high peaks. Some dazzling early bloomers include the dandelion, dwarf iris, spring beauty mayapple, and the birdfoot violet among others. From May through August you can find the turk’s cap lily, pink lady’s slipper, evening primrose, Bee balm, and fire pink. A portion of the parkway is also located in Virginia, which naturally blooms earlier due to lower elevation. Here is the bloom schedule for more info. Blue Ridge Parkway also passes through the Great Craggy Mountains, famous for its high peaks and distant views. Take the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, a 20-minute walk that includes a 360-degree view from its summit, tunnels of rehododendron, twisted birch trees, and wildflowers spreading from beginning to end.

Texas

Crows poison [www.allthingsplants.com/pics/2012-02-29/Horntoad/24e251.jp]

Crows poison [www.allthingsplants.com/pics/2012-02-29/Horntoad/24e251.jpg]

Texas is one of those states where you can’t go without seeing wildflowers, and we mean ever. You can find the famous bluebonnets in Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site part of the 450 wildflower species in the park, including the Mexican hat, White Prickly Poppy, Blue-Eyed Grass, crows poison, among others. Also see the Indian paintbrush in Lake Whitney State Park. During spring about 40 species of wildflowers cover the roadsides and landscapes. Here you’ll get to see some animals prancing around: raccoons, foxes, bobcats, among others. Daingerfield State Park is another gem known for its wildflower hills of dogwoods, redbuds, and wisteria vines. If you’re in the mood to celebrate check out the nearby Wildflower Trails Festival, happening April 16.

Kansas

Prairie Coneflower and Bergamont. [Image: www.audubonofkansas.org/tag/roadside-wildflowers-2/]

Prairie Coneflower and Bergamont. [Image: www.audubonofkansas.org/tag/roadside-wildflowers-2/]

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, one of the last remaining among its kind, is a vast prairie landscape of 10,000 acres. Enjoy its wild colors from spring to autumn. Twirl around as the wildflowers and tall grass dance to the wind. There are over 350 species of wildflowers, shrubs and other plant types. Some of the April bloomers include the Prairie Iris, grey bindweed, wild strawberry, and more found in the bloom schedule, The four dominant wildflower species in Tallgrass Prairie are little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass. We hear the Southwind Nature Trail is the ideal hike to see rolling hills and streams lined with cottonwood and hackberry trees, and a variety of grasses and flowers. Along the trail spot insects, birds, and mammals that call the prairie their home.

Virginia

Turks Cap Lily (Lilium superbum) [Image: NPS]

Turks Cap Lily (Lilium superbum) [Image: NPS]

Shenandoah National Park displays wildflowers for the length of the growing season, beginning in early spring (late March) as the hepatica and bloodroot push their way out. When the days warm up, purple and yellow violets flower, the large trillium and wild geraniums will appear within the forest. May is the time for pink azaleas to bloom in the forest, and along Skyline Drive, followed by the white flowers of mountain laurel in June. There are 862 plant species, and they appear in spring at lower elevations, also along streams: South River, Hughes River, Rose River, and Mill Prong. Later in the season, the banks of Skyline Drive and the Big Meadows area ideal great places to see summer and fall wildflowers. (For more specific dates, check out the park’s bloom schedule.) Seek out Dark Hallow Falls, Mill Prong, and Franklin Cliff Stroll— all well-known for their variety of wildflower exhibits.

For more info on wildflowers viewings, download our Pocket Ranger® State or National Park Apps.

Explore Virginia Beach’s Nature Areas

While Virginia Beach prides itself on having calm beaches, a lively boardwalk with restaurants and shops, we shouldn’t forget about the Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail! With 130,000 acres of natural land, this place draws in nature and wildlife lovers alike.

Father and son hiking on First Landing State Park.

Courtesy VA Beach Tourism

Among the cool nature spots within the Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail, First Landing State Park and False Cape State Park are prime areas for birding, hiking and biking. And what better companion than the Virginia Pocket Ranger® App to guide you along! With the app you can mark and record the coordinates of plant life, animal species, or landscape views with the photo waypoint feature. Make use of the advanced GPS Maps, which allows you to access trail data, record tracks from hikes, runs, or bike rides, and view elapsed time and distance traveled.

That’s not all! The Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail links other areas, including Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, and the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Start from the northern part of the trail at Chesapeake Bay where you’ll find thousands of sea ducks gathered around the rock islands. We hear winter is the best time to see them. Also be on the look out for scoters, long-tailed ducks, scaups, red-breasted mergansers, cormorants, and the rare harlequin ducks. And don’t be surprised if you see Northern Gannets driving for baitfish!

Image: www. wpmedia.o.canada.com/2014/09/gannet.jpg?w=660

Northern Gannets [Image: www. wpmedia.o.canada.com/2014/09/gannet.jpg?w=660]

First Landing State Park is definitely worth a visit. It’s both seashore and cypress, with ample birding, diverse habitats, from dunes to beaches. If you take the Cape Henry Trail, you’ll pass through the Cypress swamp and maritime forest, then the ancient dunes, and lastly the waters of Broad Bay.  Want to do birding on a bike? Cape Henry is also a bike trail, so hop on. There are birding opportunities all year round, including warblers in the maritime forest and ospreys in the salt marsh near Broad Bay. They typically arrive in March and stay until fall. Tanagers, thrushes and other songbirds appear during spring and fall migrations.

Already feeling overwhelmed with the number of birds? Use the Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App to  keep track of bird sightings at Seashore to Cypress Birding Trail. Complete with advanced GPS mapping features, a photo/video sharing community, where you can post your findings, add notes, leave comments and tips, as well as view other users’ sightings on one map, record and share tracks of your favorite nature trails, and mark waypoints of locations.

Kayakers in Back Bay National Refuge.

Kayakers in Back Bay National Refuge. [Courtesy VA Beach Tourism ]

If you want to explore a remote public park in the state, False Cape State Park is the place! Head for the elevated platform to view waterfowl and songbirds in the myrtle thicket. Along the ocean coastal forest there’s a cemetery, church site, and remnants of a village from the early 1900s. This spot is also popular with waterfowl hunters. Picnic tables are also available here, so be sure to take a lunch break here.

Download our free Virginia Pocket Ranger® App, to explore more of Virginia Beach. And if you want to record your bird sightings try our new and free Pocket Ranger® Bird Feed App.

National Parks East of the Mississippi

While the dramatic landscapes of National Parks in the West often receive the lion’s share of attention, National Parks east of the Mississippi River have just as much to offer. Here are five of our favorite National Parks in the East that offer visitors plenty of adventure and spectacular scenery.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Kentucky

Inside a large cavern at Mammoth Caves National Park which is one of Mississippi's National Parks [Image: travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/mammoth-cave-national-park]

Image: travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/mammoth-cave-national-park

Descend into the world’s longest-known cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park. Over the past 5,000 years, more than 400 miles of this water-formed labyrinth has been mapped and surveyed, but there is still so much left to explore. This uncharted territory lends a sense of mystery to the park. The best way to see the cave is by signing up for one of the many tours offered through the park. We recommend going on the Violet City Lantern Tour. For three hours and with only the soft light of a paraffin lamp, explore some of the cave’s largest passages just as early settlers did. Visitors will find evidence of prehistoric mineral mining and a forsaken underground hospital for TB patients.

While the cave is the largest draw for visitors of the park, there are so many other things to do and see! Some favorite sights include the Cedar Sink. By walking down inside this sinkhole, visitors can glimpse an underground river system as it snakes out of the cave. Or follow the River Styx Spring Trail, a leisurely stroll through the woods that brings you alongside the partly subterranean Green River as it wends its way from the cave.

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia

Old Rag Mountain in the Fall [Image: www.nps.gov]

Old Rag Mountain in the Fall [Image: www.nps.gov]

Shenandoah National Park encompasses part of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The ever-popular Skyline Drive, a 105-mile National Scenic Byway that runs the entire length of the park, affords multitudes of scenic vistas. Skyline Drive is most popular in the Fall when trees at the park burst with colorful foliage. There are also many opportunities to hike the Blue Ridge Mountains, such as the park’s highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain. For the thrill-seekers, we recommend taking the trail up Old Rag Mountain. After a challenging rocky scramble to the summit, hikers will be rewarded with the most breathtaking panoramic views of Virginia.

In addition to beautiful mountainscapes, there are many beautiful waterfalls within the park. At 93 feet, Overall Run Falls is the tallest waterfall at the park and a must-see. South River Falls, the third highest waterfall in the park at 83 feet, is another favorite. Both of these waterfalls offer visitors rocky ledges, perfect places for visitors to sit and have a snack.

Everglades National Park

Florida

An alligator rests on a sandy trail through a cypress grove at the Everglades  [Image Credit: David Geldhof]

Everglades National Park is listed as a World Heritage Site. [Image Credit: David Geldhof]

A watery labyrinth containing 1,100 species of trees and plants, Everglades National Park is the largest designated wilderness in the southeast. Within its miles of diverse ecosystem, travel winding paths through cypress groves, take a boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands, or a tram ride through Shark Valley. With more than 40 species of bird inhabiting the Everglades, this national park is a must for birdwatchers. For optimum bird sightings, we recommend heading to the park’s verdant Mahogany Hammock Trail early in the morning. The park is also home to 14 endangered (and often reclusive) species, such as the Florida panther, American crocodile, Loggerhead sea turtle, and manatee. If you’re anxious to see some turtles and gators, check out the Anhinga Trail. A wildlife hotspot, this trail is perfect for families and is also wheelchair accessible.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina & Tennessee

Cades Cove is a popular spot for people and wildlife at Smoky Mountains National Park. [Image Credit: Kristina Plaas]

Cades Cove is a popular spot for people and wildlife at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. [Image Credit: Kristina Plaas]

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the rugged peaks and old growth forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park make it America’s most visited national park. Home to 100 native tree species, the park contains the largest blocks of old-growth deciduous forest in North America. This is one of the many reasons why this beautiful park is honored as a World Heritage Site. The early Precambrian rocks are another popular feature at the park. These very ancient rocks are found at the bottom of the park’s Foothills. Head to the picturesque valley, Cades Cove to see these ancient rocks for yourself.

Since the Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachian Trail, visitors will most likely run into thru-hikers journeying to either Maine’s Mount Katahdin or Springer Mountain in Georgia. A favorite hike is traveling the Alum Cave Trail up to the summit of the park’s third highest mountain, Mount Le Conte. Spend the night near the summit at the LeConte Lodge. For a more strenuous hike, take on the dual-humped peaks of Chimney Tops. This hike delivers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Stay tuned for the Pocket Ranger® National Parks Passport Guide, a free new app that makes planning and visiting the National Parks easy and fun!