Top 10 Weekend Getaways

July 26, 2010, 8:29 am

A weekend getaway can mean a lot of things. For some, it's a bed and breakfast in a quaint town, for others it's driving to the beach for some swimming and boardwalk hot dogs. For the Oh, Ranger! crew, it's learning about our country's history and exploring the beautiful places that the National Park Service maintains for us. Below are our top 10 places to spend a weekend within the park system. See where Martin Luther King used to preach, walk through a Kansas prairie, or visit the marshes of New York City. (Yes, they exist!)

Gateway National Recreation Area
New York City and New Jersey

If you live in and around New York City, Gateway National Recreation Area is just a hop, skip and a jump away. And well worth the trip! Jamaica Bay was originally managed by the New York City Parks Department and, in 1972, the city transferred the refuge to the National Park Service to become part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Gateway has three separate units located in three boroughs of New York City and on Sandy Hook in central New Jersey. It encompasses more than 26,000 acres in New York and New Jersey and attracts almost 10 million visitors who enjoy year round recreational and educational programs. The wildlife refuge comprises 9,155 acres of diverse habitats including salt marsh, fresh and brackish water ponds, upland field and woods, and an open expanse of bay that begs you to kayak or canoe.

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site  

While hundreds of historic landmarks around the world are named for the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the national historic site in Atlanta is unique in that it preserves the real places where Dr. King was born, lived, worked, and is buried. Walk in Dr. King’s footsteps to a newly preserved and restored historic Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Heritage Sanctuary where he co-pastored with his father.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument
American Fork, Utah

High above the canyon floor, three magnificently decorated caves await, tucked inside the limestone cliffs of Mount Timpanogos in American Fork, Utah. The only way to visit the caves is by hiking a mile-and-a-half paved trail that climbs the sheer cliffs in American Fork Canyon. The delicate beauty of the caves makes the hike well worth the effort. See you in Utah!

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park    

Located in the rolling hills near Woodstock, Vermont, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is the only national park to focus on conservation history and the evolving nature of stewardship in America. The park is the historic home of three families who cared deeply for the world around them and who recognized the diverse and intricate connections that bind us to the health, beauty and character of the land. While you’re there, walk through one of Vermont's most beautiful landscapes, under the shade of sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, across covered bridges and alongside rambling stone walls.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Lying midway between Oklahoma City and Dallas (we know, not the most stereotypically beautifully place in the world, but believe us, well worth the trip) Chickasaw is an easily accessible contrast to these bustling metropolises. Situated just east of Interstate 35 as it transects south-central Oklahoma at the juncture of the southern Osage Plains and the ancient, worn remnants of the Arbuckle Mountains, Chickasaw entertains more than one million visitors each year.

Visitors to Chickasaw "get two parks in one" – the Platt Historic District and the Lake of the Arbuckles, where they enjoy swimming, boating, hiking, and cycling. In the Lake of the Arbuckles and other fishing holes, anglers can land white bass, catfish, and sunfish. Hunters, too, can practice their sport in the park.

The park is also located in the Central migratory flyway and offers bird watching opportunities year-round. A perfect activity for you to enjoy after you have a picnic in the hot summer sun.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
Mountainair, New Mexico

Beneath the Manzano Mountains, the monument’s three mission-and-pueblo sites form a triangle around Mountainair (population 1,054), the park headquarters and the park visitor center. The 6,500-foot elevation of the monument offers a breezy summer escape, with warm days and cool nights.

The Quarai, Abo, and Gran Quivira pueblos and missions are surrounded by stunning landscapes and are surprisingly close: only 75 minutes from Albuquerque and about 90 minutes from Santa Fe. Do it all in a day or stay the weekend. Mountainair has lodging options and there is camping nearby in Manzano Mountains State Park and Red Canyon campground in Cibola National Forest.

Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park today covers almost 55 acres in center city Philadelphia. The park includes Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Congress Hall, Franklin Court, and other historic buildings associated with the founding of the United States. Take a crack at visiting them all. (Get it? Crack? Liberty Bell? Work with us.)

Big Thicket National Preserve

You will marvel at wildflowers, dogwoods, and plums that make bold splashes of color and lacy curtains of white on your way to the visitor center at this preserve. Explore the secrets of Big Thicket habitats in the amazing hands-on exhibits and meet the neighbors in a short film. Be sure to get a Junior Ranger booklet for the children.

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Strong City, Kansas

10,894 acres of tallgrass prairie exists at a variety of heights—it takes Mother Nature a full season to grow grasses to their fullest height, which can sometimes reach 10 feet! Think of it as being “tall in the fall.” It takes time. It also takes time to appreciate the subtle beauty that is the Flint Hills and the tallgrass prairie. Today, less than 4 percent remains of the once vast 140 million acres of tallgrass prairie.

George Washington Carver National Monument
Diamond, Missouri

George Washington Carver (January 1864 – January 5, 1943), was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor. Carver researched and promoted alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life.

Visit the park to walk in Carver’s footsteps, and connect to his life—a one-mile trail is a pleasant path to understanding. It will lead you through woodlands, over streams, and restored prairie to see Carver’s birthplace and the family house and cemetery—maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse, in your mind’s eye, of his secret garden. Relax by a spring-fed pond and contemplate the beauty and solitude of the young Carver's world, or join a park ranger on a guided tour. Kids will enjoy the hands-on exhibits and Junior Ranger program.