Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of the summer travel season. “Today” travel editor Peter Greenberg talks about some of the best national seashore parks you can enjoy on your next family getaway.Most popular seashores
Fire Island Lighthouse, N.Y.
The Fire Island Lighthouse was decommissioned as an aid to navigation on December 31, 1973. The new aid to navigation was a "small flash tube optic" installed atop the Robert Moses State Park Water Tower. After the Fire Island Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1974, the Coast Guard gave the National Park Service a five-year permit to use the entire Lighthouse Tract (approximately 82 acres). In 1979, the tract was declared by law to be within the boundaries of the Fire Island National Seashore. With limited funds, the major function of the Park Service during its early administration of the Lighthouse tract was to prevent further deterioration of the buildings through neglect and vandalism. Between 1974 and 1980, private citizens grouped together in an effort to "save the Fire Island Lighthouse." The strobe light on the Robert Moses Tower only shone seaward and was of no use to boaters on the Great South Bay. Public support for restoration of the Fire Island Lighthouse was great among the bay men. In 1982, the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed. They successfully raised over 1.2 million dollars for the restoration and preservation of the Fire Island Lighthouse. In 1984, the Fire Island Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.Sunken Forest, N.Y.
Sailors Haven is home to one of the best known areas of Fire Island National Seashore --the Sunken Forest. It is located near the center of the island, across the Great South Bay from Sayville, N.Y. The Sunken Forest surprises many visitors, who don't expect to find such a well developed forest just a few hundred yards from Fire Island’s sandy beaches and pounding surf. On a hot summer day, the shady, cool forest is a welcome relief from the glaring sun and burning sand of the beach. Sitting on a bench on the forest's nature trail and listening to bird song, the light rustle of wind through leaves and the distant sound of ocean waves is one of Fire Island's premiere experiences. The Sunken Forest represents a sort of stability in an extremely dynamic environment — a barrier island. Maintained by The Fire Island National Seashore, this unique area is one of the last remaining maritime forests on the eastern seaboard. It earned its name because it appears lower than the surrounding water. The forest is not actually below sea level — the high surrounding sand dunes that protect this environment create the illusion of being lower than sea level.The other, lesser known national seashores
Cape Lookout National Seashore, N.C.
For a more peaceful and adult-oriented getaway you and a friend might want to focus on Cape Lookout, which consists of three islands: North Core Banks, South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks — may seem barren and isolated but they offer many natural and historical features that can make a visit very rewarding and can only be reached by regularly scheduled passenger ferry service. Cape Lookout National Seashore's adventure begins in getting to the park. To get to Cape Lookout, one must travel by boat. Traveling by private boat or by crossing the shallow sound by one of the many privately owned ferry services will transport visitors to a sandy wilderness where there are no stores, restaurants, hotels, neon signs, or bustling streets. The visitors to Cape Lookout find that they can truly “get away from it all.” These expansive beaches offer some of the best surf fishing in the nation, some of the best shelling, and an opportunity for visitors to learn of the nation’s history from early settlements to the country’s attempt to protect commerce and lives. Though inside the National Park Service and to local residents of North Carolina Cape Lookout may be known, however Cape Lookout probably is not know on a national level. Located off the coast of North Carolina, Cape Lookout National Seashore is a low, narrow, ribbon of sand spanning a distance of 56 miles. The length of Cape Lookout National Seashore is broken into three main islands consisting mainly of wide, bare beaches with low dunes covered by scattered grasses, flat grasslands bordered by dense vegetation, and large expanses of salt marsh along the sound sides of the islands. The park is largely undeveloped and has no maintained improved roads.Recreation Activities: Boating, Camping, Educational Programs, Fishing, Hiking, Hunting, Swimming, Wildlife Viewing.
Fees: Park Entrance is free.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, N.C.
Cape Hatteras offers a very different beach experience. Cape Hatteras is a 70-mile strand of narrow islands connected to the mainland by a series of bridges and ferries, and bisected by a modern road that allows easy access to the shoreline. Not a lesser-known seashore as it’s pretty popular — but what makes it special is the surfing! Two areas of Pamlico Sound on the inland side of Cape Hatteras have been set aside for windsurfers, dozens of whom flock here on summer days to what’s considered one of the finest board-sailing spots in the U.S. The fishing and surfing are considered some of the best on the East Coast. Fishing is to Cape Hatteras National Seashore as surfing is to Hawaii.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Ga.
http://www.nps.gov/cuis/One of the oldest barrier islands on the Atlantic Coast and with a landmass larger than Manhattan Island, Cumberland Island National Seashore immersed with rich soil and a number of ecosystems within the confines of its shores. Fertile and critical saltwater marshes, estuaries, fresh water ponds, forests of moss cover oak, massive dunes, and clean sand beaches that provide critical habitat to loggerhead turtles can all be found within the island's boundaries. Cumberland Island is claimed to be the largest barrier island on the Georgia coast, a fact that is both correct and incorrect depending on how you add the land mass up.
Presently, Cumberland Island National Seashore can only be accessed by boat. A private concessionaire runs a passenger ferry that takes you on a 45-minute ride from St. Mary’s, Georgia to Dungeness Dock and Sea Camp Dock on the western shore of Cumberland. Visits to the island are restricted to a maximum of seven days. In the summer two round trips are made daily allowing for only a four-hour window for a day trip on the island. In the winter runs become limited to once a day with no ferry service on Tuesday or Wednesday. Charter boats are available in St. Mary’s to take visitors to the island as an alternative and allow visitors more options on what they can and can't take to the islandRecreation activities: boating, camping, educational programs, fishing, hiking, wilderness area, wildlife viewing.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wis.
http://www.nps.gov/apis/index.htmWithin the boundaries of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the largest and finest collection of lighthouses in the country [from Great American Lighthouses, by F. Ross Holland, Jr. The rare combination of remote but accessible scenery, geography, open and protected waters affords unparalleled freshwater sailing, boating, and sea kayaking opportunities found nowhere else in North America. The Apostle Islands archipelago contains a highly diverse, scientifically important, and stunningly beautiful array of coastal landforms (beaches, sandpits, tombolos, sea caves, sea arches, sea stacks, sandstone cliffs) that retain a high degree of ecological integrity. Lake Superior is the largest body of fresh water in the world. A cruise among the Apostle Islands will leave you with a lasting memory of the pure beauty of the crystal clear water. Live narratives on each cruise lend historical perspective to the activities of man in this rare beautiful environment. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was established to preserve this unique heritage for your enjoyment. Go on a cruise, explore a lighthouse, enjoy a camping experience — either way you'll remember this experience
Point Reyes National Seashore, Ca.
There simply is no fast way to get to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It's a long drive — longer than expected. Point Reyes is located off the peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. The beaches are great for hiking and exploring, but they're not for swimming because of the danger from the heavy surf, riptides and the undertow. The park's 140 miles of trails are popular with hikers. There are four hike-in campgrounds in the park's back country. Mountain bikes and horses are permitted on some trails. Scenic drives are available for visitors who want to motor through the park. Point Reyes lies atop the San Andreas Fault and is moving 2 inches a year to the northwest away from the rest of California. In fact, the epicenter of the famed 1906 San Francisco earthquake was at Point Reyes. The peninsula that day moved 20 feet along the fault line because of the quake. The Earthquake Trail near the Bear Valley Visitor Center explains the seashore's unusual geology. Fees: Entrance fee is free
Canaveral National Seashore: Titusville and New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Twenty seven miles of undeveloped barrier island provide the pristine Atlantic beaches of Playalinda, Klondike and Apollo. Inland are the dune, marsh, and lagoon habitats for a tremendous variety of wildlife. It is a major destination for bird lovers and known world-wide for excellent surfing. Sunbathers can sprawl out on three immaculate beaches: Playalinda, Klondike, and Apollo. And while Playalinda and Apollo are accessible by car, Klondike is reserved exclusively for hikers. Speaking of sunbathing, no tans lines here! A paved road leads from the gate to undeveloped Playalinda Beach. While it's illegal, nude sunbathing has long been a tradition here — at least for those willing to walk a few miles to the more deserted areas. Nude sunbathing and swimming remains legal at Apollo Beach within the traditional naturist area. Apollo beach is located at the north end of Canaveral National Seashore. You can get there by driving down through New Smyrna until the highway ends at the Canaveral Seashore Park. After you cross over the dunes, watch for signs for clothing optional areas. Enjoy natural beach recreation at the Canaveral National Seashore. Every summer, the best surfers in the country head to New Smyrna to compete in the ASP Surfing Competition. Even if you're not a pro, New Smyrna's safe waters make it the perfect surfing spot for beginners. Other activities include: Horseback riding, walking trails, and camping.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Mich.
A visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is just as varied in the winter as it is in the summer. That, of course, would depend on what one is looking to do and how many amenities one expects to find available at the time. Approximately one million visitors per year come to the Lakeshore from all over Michigan, the United States and the world. The most popular thing to do is the Dune Climb at any time of year. It just sits there calling out to everyone to climb it. And it is fun! (Unless of course, its 90 degrees and the sun is beating down on you, or 20 degrees and the wind chill and flying sand doesn't appeal to you!) However, there are beautiful hikes on the mainland and some outstanding ones on North and South Manitou Islands. However, the majority of visitors arrive between June and September. This park is accessible year-round.
About one-fifth of these lesser-known seashores charge an entrance fee of $3 to $10 per private passenger vehicle or $1 to $5 per person. If you plan to visit several parks that have entrance fees, you can save money with the $50 Golden Eagle Pass. It provides entry to all national park areas for one calendar year. Visitors age 62 and over qualify for a Golden Age Pass. The pass has a one time charge of $10 and it is a lifetime pass. It provides free entry and a 50 percent discount on federal camping and other use fees. Proof of age is required and applicants must appear in person. Blind and permanently disabled persons who qualify for disability benefits under one of several federal programs may obtain a free lifetime Golden Access Pass. It must be applied for in person and provides the same privileges as the Golden Age Pass. All three passes are available at recreation fee areas.