Day 10: National Lakeshores and Riverways

Thus far in our 12 Days of National Parks series we have looked at a variety of NPS park units. Units such as, National Monuments, National Historic Sites and National Scenic Trails. Today, we are going to go “offshore” to National Lakeshores and Riverways. Watch out! You may get your feet wet.

Let’s Go! Learn Things on our National Lakeshores and Riverways…

National Lakeshores

I wanted to include this group of park units because they are heavily represented in the Midwest region of the U.S.. Traditional National Parks are sparse in the Midwest but National Lakeshores and Riverways are prevalent. This makes sense with the Great Lakes bordering many of the Midwestern states and the Mighty Mississippi flowing for 2,348 miles through the center of the country.

Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Western Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Western Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was a destination on my swing through Western Michigan. I was quite impressed by Western Michigan and its eastern lakeshore of Lake Michigan. Everything was so different from my stomping ground of Eastern Wisconsin. The prevailing winds erode away Wisconsin’s bluffs and deposit them as massive sand dunes in Michigan. Much of the precious dune habitat has been lost to development. But Michigan, with the help of the National Park Service is starting to protect these unique formations.

Learn More About Western Michigan:
Winter in Western Michigan
Fall in Western Michigan
Crystal Mountain Resort

Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Raspberry Island one of the Apostle Island archipelago in northern Wisconsin.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in Lake Superior, is far enough north that it has a pretty short season. We visited once for the 4th of July and froze our little tushes. That being said, it is a beautiful place, beloved by sea kayakers and summer tourists looking to escape crowds and heat. 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland host a unique blend of cultural and natural resources. These remote islands feel like they have never been inhabited. But on the contrary, settlers have attempted to wrest a living from the island environment by farming, logging, quarrying building stone, and by fishing in the waters of Lake Superior. Island inhabitants have included early Native Americans, pioneer farmers, commercial fishermen, lighthouse keepers and their families.

The Apostle Islands are formed from sandstone, the rugged waters of Lake Superior have carved out impressive sea caves and splash pools. 

Upper Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Upper Michigan

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (U.P) is a pristine and rugged landscape standing guard at the junctions of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Along the northern edge of the U.P. the powerful Lake Superior washes against the land. Over the centuries, the power of Lake Superior has created dramatic coastal features. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore presents sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, inland lakes, deep forest, and wild shoreline to explore.

National Riverways

Minnesota: Mississippi National River

discover the charm of the Mississippi rivertown Dubuque in the fall
Mississippi River

The Mighty Mississippi plays a dominate part in U.S. history. It sparked the imagination and curiosity of Native Americans, fur traders, settlers, farmers, loggers, gamblers, industrial giants and acclaimed authors. You will find the headwaters of the Mississippi River far north in Minnesota and its mouth deep in the south of Louisiana.

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Areas covers 72 miles in the urban centers of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Through this section of the river it undergoes dramatic changes in topography. It enters the park as a modest-sized river, then plunges over St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, the river’s only true waterfall. After coursing through a deep, wooded gorge the river opens up into the huge floodplain river made famous by Mark Twain.

Wisconsin/Minnesota: St. Croix Riverway

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway
St. Croix River from Interstate Park along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border
Photo credit to Tom Frost

Fifty miles northeast of Minneapolis, the Minnesota/Wisconsin border is defined by the St. Croix River. This majestic, northwoods river eventually flows into the Mississippi, adding volumes to the Giant. The two small towns of Taylor Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI host both the Interstate Park and the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

Bluffs stand sentinel over the deep gorge that centuries of river flow and glacier movement have carved. On the east side in Wisconsin Interstate Park you can hike the Pothole Trail. This trail passes amazingly perfect round “potholes” created from water erosion. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is a popular destination for hikers and canoers/kayakers. The Riverway runs for 200 miles taking a sharp right turn to the east and joining with the Namekagon River in northern Wisconsin.

Learn More:
St. Croix River Region
National Scenic Trails
5 Reasons to hike the Ice Age Trail

Missouri: Ozark Scenic Riverway

Mark Twain National Forest
Wide and fast moving Meramac River in the Mark Twain National Forest

Many of these highlighted National Lakeshores and Riverways have been “up north” in the Midwest. However, the southern states offer some beautiful Riverways as well. Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma share the region known as the Ozarks. The Ozarks are loved for their deep forested highlands, extensive cave systems, and tranquil floating waterways. In Missouri, a large portion of this region is protected as the Mark Twain National Forest. The Ozark National Scenic Riverway , within the Mark Twain NF, was the first river to be protected by the National Park Service in 1964. Outdoor enthusiasts of every style find something adventurous or relaxing along the Current River and Jacks Fork River of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway.

Learn More: Missouri Ozarks: Discover the Mark Twain National Forest.

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