Oregon Caves National Monument

Visited: August 2019

Duration: 2-3 hours

Accommodations: In between AirBNB in Trinidad, CA and heading to Crater Lake NP

Oregon Caves National Monument, to our surprise was an impromptu stop that turned out to be an amazing addition to this trip.

Gunnar had purchased a Circle of Discovery shirt while in Lassen Volcanic National Park, it had all of the Parks we were visiting on this trip with the inclusion of Oregon Caves (that wasn’t on our itinerary) so we felt we best stop here and check it out, so we could complete the Circle of Discovery. So glad we did!

We pulled into town and stopped at the Oregon Caves Visitor Center in Cave Junction, Oregon. To our delight they had room for us on the next cave tour in 1.5 hours. The road from Cave Junction up to the cave itself is twisty and turny and takes almost an hour to get there so please think about this if stopping here. I had both of the kids take naps there and back so we didn’t deal with motion sickness.

The Chalet that is at the cave was shut down for repairs and rehabilitation so there was no food or lodging during our visit. Please check on this if going.

When we got there we had about 20-30 minutes for our tour so we grabbed our Junior Rangers and started on them.

The tour started and rest was history (literally). We had THE BEST Ranger tour of our lives. Ranger Neil was our guide for the tour and boy did he go above and beyond. If you can hold the attention of 2 young boys (ages 14 and 12) while talking about geology and caves then you are the winner for the day. Ranger Neil was a Geology professor for 30+ years at Oregon State University and now does cave tours, he was simply amazing and so much fun. From the beginning of the cave to the end, he kept us entertained and educated. So glad we stopped here.

Oregon Cave was first discovered by a hunter, Elijah Davidson in November of 1874. However, to geologists we know that it takes caves millions of years to form. They have found Grizzly bear remains in Oregon caves that have been radiocarbon dated to be over 50,000 years old. Because the soils have no acids like top soils and the temperature and humidity in the cave are constant, bones are preserved well here. Oregon Caves National Monument became a National Monument in 1909 and people have been going on tours since.

Here are some pictures and info. on the tour we took. We opted for the Discovery Tour.

Below is a demonstration led by Ranger Neil showing us how acid wears away at the marble to form and shape the cave and cave features we will see today. Ranger Neil’s volunteer is none other than Ranger Gunnar!! Everyone on the tour earned their Ranger status if they volunteered to help. Ranger Barb made sure everyone stuck together and didn’t wander off the path.

Some of the amazing cave features we saw on this tour are below.

What a great information tour. We weren’t going to do a tour but in the end we caved…… 🙂

At the end of the tour Ranger Neil does it again….. takes a family photo of each family at the exit to the cave with a little pic of himself for us to remember him (how could we forget him).

Back to the Visitor Center at the cave for our souvenirs, cancellations and Junior Ranger badges. What a great stop. I can’t recommend this place enough. Worth the trip. A+++++++

That is all for Oregon Cave National Monument. As I have said before, we are so glad we stopped. Put it on your list of places to visit. It was amazing. Until next time.

California

California state line!!!! This is #39 out of 50 for our state line signs. This picture was taken outside of Worden, Oregon, there is a really cool Oregon sign across the road as well. We ventured up here from Lava Beds National Monument since it was a relatively low traffic area. Turned out pretty good, the kids still remember some funny Trump sticker that was on the sign 🙂

While in California, this trip we did the National Parks in the Northern part of the state and they did NOT disappoint, they were all phenomenal!! Check out each of the blogs below to see our adventures at each:

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lava Beds National Monument

Whiskeytown National Recreational Area

Redwoods National Forest

While staying in Trinidad to see Redwoods we visited Patrick’s Point State Park. This park was so beautiful that I am yearning to go back (that doesn’t happen very often). We spent an afternoon hiking and checking out this amazing place, so glad our guest services lady told us not to miss this at our cabin in Lassen. In my opinion it was the best part of the trip.

Check out these photos!!

The hiking at this park was just unbelievable. I can’t wait to get back out there. We really enjoyed Northern Cali. It is going in the top 5 for favorite states visited 🙂

Stop back soon for the next state line sign.

Redwoods National Park

Visited: August 2019

Duration: 2 full days and then some…..

Accommodations: AirBNB Idyllic Coastal Log House in Trinidad, CA

Redwoods National Park, the whole reason for this year’s National Park Trip Season 4. Each child was given a summer task (last year) to write a report or do a slide show on which National Park they would like to visit and why. Gunnar’s report won, it was on Redwoods National Park. Here we are and I couldn’t be more grateful that he chose this park to report on. From Trinidad (the home base of our AirBNB all the way up to Hiouchi Visitor Center on the Northern most tip of the park was nothing but amazing beauty from the ocean, to giant trees, fun stops along the way and a kayaking adventure along the Smith river to top off one of the most beautiful parks in our country. This puts Redwoods National park as one of my favorite parks we have visited.

Our first stop was Kuchel Visitor Center where we met with a ranger and he gave us some ideas of what we need to see and do in our 2-3 days here at the park. We grabbed Junior Rangers and some little pamphlets called Redwood EdVentures which, by far was what we enjoyed the most. If you have kids or are an adult that is just out to have fun, these are great. They are hikes that you follow to find key words or numbers that earn you a patch. We did 4 of them while in the area but there are 20 or so total. Check it out at www.redwood-edventures.org.

We headed north out of the visitor center on Hwy 101 that cuts through the park. Second stop of the day was just up the road at Elk Meadow, The Trillium Falls Trail (also an edventure quest). This trail was where we witnessed our first banana slug, which was exciting but not as exciting as getting out and seeing the redwoods. You can’t imagine how amazing these trees are until you are right next to them.

Banana Slug
Trillium Falls

Back to the car and up to Prairie Creek Visitor Center for our second EdVenture quest. The Prairie Creek Trail, where the trees were even bigger and you can stand in them and walk through them.

You feel small out here
The roots of a fallen Redwood

Up the road we continued and stopped for the obligatory tour through the tree photo at Klamath. Hunter got out to guide me and take the photo. Pretty fun and I would do it again.

Next stop was lunch at the Forest Cafe, super cute, they had duck feet hanging from the ceiling which made it look like we were under water. Great food and when we were done we went across the street to visit Paul Bunyan and do some souvenir shopping at Trees of Mystery. The kids got some sweet bigfoot slippers, see below.

Bigfoot slippers at the cabin

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing our other EdVenture quests at Patrick’s Point State Park and Trinidad which can be found on the California blog. I highly recommend stopping at Patrick’s Point State Park, to me it is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. I am looking forward to returning here and camping. Dinner in Trinidad on the water, and then back to the cabin to play Trekking the National Parks. 🙂

Day 2

Up and at em, so we get to the park before anyone else. We have a full day ahead of us today. We headed straight up to Fern Canyon to do some hiking where Jurassic Park and Star Wars were filmed. This place was awesome!! I highly recommend doing this part of the park even though it is very rough to get here. On the way back there were several cars stuck. Make sure you have 4 wheel drive if going here. Also it’s a one lane road so go slow because if traffic is heavy your are in trouble at some spots. We got in early and out about the right time.

Check this out, Ferns everywhere!! I would love to have ferns like this at home but I haven’t botany, not sorry.

This hike was truly amazing and will go down as one of my favorites. It felt like another world out there.

We headed out of Fern Canyon and up to Hiouchi for our kayaking tour this afternoon. This was another great memory that I can’t recommend enough. We went through Redwoods Rides. Our guide Joey was amazing and the kids still talk about him 2 years later. Clear waters all the way, we stopped to swim (jump off of rocks) and Joey took some pretty amazing photos of us with the Redwood trees. I gave this 5 stars on TripAdvisor and it was one of the highlights of our trip.

We drove back to the house on the Old Redwoods Road, name Howland Hill Road. This was gorgeous! The sun was going down and shining through the trees, what an amazing experience. That wraps up another perfect day at Redwoods National Park.

Day 3

Today we leave but not before stopping at all visitor centers to shop, get our Junior Rangers and EdVenture badges. See below for the nice haul we got visiting Redwoods. We can’t wait to get these on our National Park vests.

Also be sure to stop at ALL of the Visitor Centers (even the State Parks) for awesome Passport cancellations and stamps.

We are heading north into Oregon and hope that we can stop at Oregon Caves for a tour, fingers crossed they have openings when we get there. This was not on our itinerary but Gunnar has purchased a shirt with The Circle of Discovery on it, it includes all the parks we are going to this summer plus Oregon Caves, so we figured why not stop. 🙂 Redwoods was awesome, definitely going in our top 5 for sure, I think it may be Gunnar’s #1 Park. Regardless, it is a must do in your lifetime! I can’t say enough about this park, go see for yourself. It has been 2 years since our visit and I want to go back so bad (more than any other park I have been to). Thanks for visiting. Have you been to Redwoods? What did you think?? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Visited: August 2019

Duration: 4-6 hours

Accommodations: Stayed ON at Shasta View Hotel went to Whiskeytown, then ON at Redwoods.

I wasn’t really that thrilled about going to Whiskeytown, it was just a NPS site on the way from Lassen to Redwoods. We arrived here around 9 in the morning, it was a 1.5 hour drive from our hotel last night at the base of Mt. Shasta. We arrived at the Visitor Center and grabbed our needed supplies, Jr. Ranger book, t-shirts that say Whiskeytown, magnets, passport stickers and cancellations. This is the spot that my kids got these goofy hats that you will continue to see throughout the park visits. They love them, they drive me crazy 🙂

Once we got out of the VC, I realized how cool this place actually was, there are tons of things to do here and it is gorgeous. We took J.F. Kennedy Memorial Drive down to Brandy Creek. Passing the Kennedy Memorial and Glory Hole Spillway shown below.

This reservoir and dam feed all of California. The Central Valley project was built to move water from norther California to the drier areas farther south, The lake brings many benefits to this area like recreational opportunities, flood control, hydroelectric power, and a dependable water supply.

We made our way to the Brandy Creek area, where we parked, rented paddle boards, swam and enjoyed a picnic lunch. We had an amazing time and the views were awesome. This place really shouldn’t be missed.

Gunnar eating lunch and working on his Junior Ranger

After hours of fun, we headed back to the Visitor Center where we earned our Junior Ranger badges. Off to the Redwood forest, I can’t wait.

Check back soon for Redwoods National Park and the Oregon Parks.

Lava Beds National Monument

Visited: July 2019

Duration: 1/2 day 4-6 hours

Accommodations: Shasta View Hotel (between Lava Beds and Whiskeytown NRA) Highly recommend

Eruptions occurring 30-40,000 years ago formed over 700 lava tube caves found in Lava Beds National Monument. Lava tubes are formed by hot flowing streams of lava that start to cool. The center of the stream stays hot and flows, the outside of the the lava stream begins to cool and harden. The hot lava drains out leaving pipe like caves (tubes).

Here at Lava Beds National Monument you can explore above ground and below ground. We chose to explore the caves, this requires a permit to do (easy stop at the Visitor Center). There are over 700 plus caves in this park. The visitor center supplies you with flashlights, free of charge. Wear protective clothing, caves are cold, helmet, and don’t go alone.

We explored the Cave Loop road stopping at Mushpot Cave, Blue Grotto, Upper Sentinel and Lower Sentinel. We saw some pretty cool cave formations along the way.

Here is what the trails look like in the lava tubes
Cool formations

After our cave exploration we headed back to the Visitor Center and watched the film, finished our Jr Rangers, earned the badges and we were off to Mt. Shasta via Gillem Bluff. We headed to the northern part of the park to explore and drove through Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. This was a great stop up in Northern California. Our next visit is to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Check back for that.

Nevada

The Nevada state line sign taken on the Nevada/Utah border near Baker, Nevada. This is #38 out of 50 state line signs, but who’s counting, right?

Nevada was a beautiful state with a National Park I have ranked in the top 5 of my favorite U.S. National Parks, you can check it out here.

Great Basin National Park

We stayed at Hidden Canyon resort and loved it, ate in Baker and again loved it. We traveled US Highway 50 through Nevada, nicknamed The Loneliest Road in America. This holds true. I bet in our 6 hours of travel on this highway, we saw less then a dozen vehicles, we didn’t pass a soul and the dozen vehicles we saw were coming the opposite way. It was a gorgeous drive from Baker to Reno.

We overnighted it in Reno on our way to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We have a mini golfer in the family and I had researched that Reno/Sparks had an amazing Mini golf Park, it did not disappoint at all. Magic Carpet golf is awesome! This guy has gone all over America collecting old statues and incorporating them into his mini golf courses. You have to check this place out 🙂 Good times.

2 more National park service sites in this state, so we will be back soon, check back for Nevada sites.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Visited: July 2019

Duration: 2 full days

Accommodations: Livings Springs RV and Cabins (reserved on Air BNB) highly recommend.

Lassen Volcanic National Park illustrates Earth’s most powerful forces. All four types of rock that originate from volcanoes can be found here in this park; shield, composite, cinder cone and plug dome. Lassen peak is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world. Boiling mudpots, steaming ground, roaring fumeroles, sulfurous gases, lakes, mountains, volcanoes, great hiking trails, wonderful viewpoints, gorgeous streams and beautiful waterfalls put this park at #1 on my list of best national parks I have visited. You heard it here, this is by far my favorite national park (and this still holds true to date with 31/62 visited).

We arrived at Lassen on the Northeast side of the park and visited the Butte Lake area. This is made up of Butte Lake, Fantastic Lava Beds, painted dunes and cinder cone. We headed out on the Cinder cone trail, make sure to wear hiking boots or your shoes will be filled with cinder, take lots of water, it gets hot. Painted dunes is amazing!! Check it out.

We ate lunch at Butte Lake and enjoyed the view above. An older couple joined us for lunch and we chatted about traveling and baseball. Boys walked around the lake and found HUGE pinecones. What an amazing afternoon. We headed to the main part of the park (Manzanita Lake Area) and grabbed our Junior Ranger books, shirts, stickers and all the other goodies anyone would ever want at the bookstore. We then headed to Manzanita Lake where we did a Junior ranger program, had ice cream and enjoyed people watching at the store. This store had great items, I recommend buying shirts and souvenirs here at the camp store.

The next day we headed out early and drove the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, stopping along the way for viewpoints, hiking and pictures. This place allows for so many pictures, it is beautiful with so much to offer.

First Stop: Manzanita Lake with Lassen Peak in the background. There is a great trail that leads up to the Visitor center.

Next up: Devastated Area

Here at the Devastated area there is an interpretive trail with lots of sign posts and broken speaker information, we were educated here by Charlie Brown’s teacher. ha! The solar power wasn’t working that day or something, the kids thought this was awesome. This is the size rocks that Lassen peak erupted with in its largest explosion on May 22, 1915, paving the way for the creation of this park on August 9, 1916. For reference, Hunter was about 6 ft 3 in this photo.

Next stops: Lake Helen, Bumpass Trailhead overlook, Emerald Lake

Next stop: Hiking to Kings Creek

We stopped here for lunch and then headed out on the trail to see an awesome waterfall. This was easily one of my favorite hikes I have ever been on. Take water, the steps are killer on the way back 🙂 The views=worth it.

We hit the sulphur works area of the park next, what a fun stop. Kids thought it stunk (sorry not sorry).

For the Finale: Junior Rangers at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center

That was 2 days of an absolutely fantastic park. Lots of things to do, lots of time getting lost in nature and lots of amazing views. I highly recommend this park and visiting Northern California, it is good for the soul!

Passport Cancellations and we are off to our next stop (Lava Beds National Monument).

Great Basin National Park

Visited: July 2019

Duration: 6-7 hours, a full day

Accommodations: Hidden Canyon Retreat (highly recommend)

Let’s start this post off by stating that Great Basin National Park has gone right into my top ten National Parks with the possibility of top 5. This is Nevada’s and the NPS’s best kept secret. Out in the middle of nowhere this park will amaze and awe you, I guarantee it.

We arrived in the afternoon and headed to the Visitor Center in the town of Baker, Nevada. Here we earned our Dark Sky Junior Ranger patches and grabbed our Great Basin Junior Ranger books. The park rangers here were extremely helpful and very amusing both times we visited.

We headed into the park and hit up the Lehman Caves Visitor Center to check on cave tours. Unfortunately all the cave tours were booked up for the next several days so we skipped that (all ok we have been to many caves and are really caved out, I would rather hike above ground). We took to the interpretive trail behind the visitor center and visited the Rhodes cabin where visitors in the early 20th century stayed while visiting the Lehman caves. It is now on the National Register of Historic places.

Next up we got back in the car and drove up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive road and when I say up, I mean up, 9,886 ft! There are several overlooks I recommend stopping at on the way to Wheeler Peak. Just look at these pictures we took, not sure you could take a bad photo at this park.

The center stage here at Great Basin is a very unique specimen named the Bristlecone Tree, they are found up in the Snake Range between 9,500 and 11,000 feet. These trees are 3,000 to 5,000 years old and are the oldest living thing to still inhabit this earth today. Pretty cool, huh!!

Once atop Wheeler peak we set out to hike the Bristlecone Trail so we could hike through a grove of these trees, some were in the range of 5,000 years old. This hike was/is probably one of my favorite hikes in all of the parks I have done so far. Just awesome beauty all the way up and all the way down. The trees are truly awe-inspiring, I haven’t seen anything like it before. We had a hard time wanting to leave the grove. I highly recommend putting this park and trail on your bucket list! Check it out.

Gunnar was excited to see snow in July! We headed back into Baker, Nevada for some dinner, not expecting much. There was 2 places to eat and the first looked a little sketchy so we past on that, the next one was a very pleasant surprise. We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table but it was worth it. While waiting on the bench outside we played with a hairless cat, yes you heard me a hairless cat in the middle of nowhere Nevada. Gunnar kept calling it a skinless cat and didn’t realize what he was saying (nobody corrected him). We still let him call it that and we all giggle, he finally figured it out.

We sat down and ate our meal, one which I would drive straight to Nevada for again anytime of the day, it was the best burger I have ever eaten in my life!!! Straight up amazing food, Kerouac’s Restaurant, I would give it ten stars! After our fine dining we headed off to our retreat. Hidden Canyon Retreat is another hidden gem in Nevada. We loved this place and wish we could have stayed longer. Tonight we all got in the huge hot tub outside and enjoyed the most starred sky I have ever seen in my life. Great Basin is one of the National Parks in the Dark Sky program, meaning it has the least light pollution of all of the parks and you can see every star in the galaxy here at night. I can’t even begin to tell you how cool this was to see. Definitely one our favorite memories of this trip, and another reason for its ranking in my top ten of parks.

In the morning we enjoyed a great breakfast up at the lodge of the retreat, packed our bags for Reno and headed back to the Visitor Center in town. We earned our Great Basin Junior Ranger badges and got a telescope/astronomy lesson.

Badges, patches, passport stamps and everything else we would ever need and we are off.

I hope you enjoyed our trip to Great Basin National Park and I hope that this post will really “sink” in and get you excited to visit this park! Get it? Sink…..Basin…… Anyways put this one on the list, you won’t be disappointed. Until next time (Which will be Lassen National Park another one in the top ten if not #1). Check back soon.

Iowa

State line sign #13 of 50 for us. Funny because this is where we live, we just don’t usually stop for this one. Iowa has lots of fun and beautiful things to do, you would be surprised. This picture was taken in Marquette Iowa which is one of our favorite places to go in the summer and fall. It is just up the road from Pike’s Peak State Park and McGregor, another family favorite.

In Iowa there aren’t many NPS sites but we did manage to get both of them. The links are listed below and we enjoyed our visits to them, I hope you do too.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

There is also a Smokestacks Heritage area we will visit someday that isn’t listed in the Passport book but does sound worth checking out.

Check back soon for that.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Chimney Rock National Historic Site was a quick, quick stop on our way to see Scotts Bluff National Monument. It is just a few miles away from our intended spot. This isn’t registered in the National Parks Passport book but it claims it is a National Historic site and it has cancellations.

We popped into the Visitor Center and Museum to look around. It does cost to go through the museum, we opted not too, we were short on time and we wanted to get up to the Chimney Rock viewpoint. It was a beautiful visitor center so take your time.

We drove up to the viewpoint and got these awesome photos. The one with just the boys went in our Nebraska state photo frame I loved it so much. Great historical photo sites are the best.

Great shots and I loved the sunflowers in the background. Make sure you stop here, it is a beautiful area of Nebraska. So glad we added this stop.

Until next time. I hope you enjoyed this short post. I didn’t want to exclude it because it is a beautiful place, it just doesn’t have much to do. Sometimes short and sweet is nice.

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