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Family Travel: Top 10 Bucket List of Lesser Known Places

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If there’s anyone who knows the outdoors, it’s the editors at Recreation.gov who are constantly learning about the unique destinations and interesting things to do across the USA. Each of them has a bucket list that grows every time they discover a place that piques their interest. These are some of the lesser known and wildly interesting places they want to, or have, visited. They are hoping you will be infected by their passion to explore the many, many places that make up the wild landscapes, historical attractions and unique experiences of your federal lands.

Paddle and Camp in the Swamp
Okefenokee Wilderness, Georgia

Okefenokee Wilderness (Art Webster USFWS)

 

Choose a scenic drive, a motorized boat tour or a quiet paddle through moss-draped trees on an overnight adventure—the Okefenokee Wilderness is an experience you won’t soon forget! To truly experience the beauty and solitude of the Okefenokee, paddle to one of seven boat-in overnight shelters or three island campsites. A permit is required and itineraries help you navigate the logistics and waters of the area.


Experience the Significance of this Archaeoastronomical (archaeo…what?) Sacred Place
Chimney Rock National Monument, Colorado

Chimney Rock National Monument (Mark Roper)

 

This landscape, featuring both Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, holds deep spiritual significance for modern Pueblo and tribal communities and was one of the largest communities of the Pueblo II era (900-1150 A.D.). Today, descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo People return to this important place of cultural continuity to visit their ancestors, and for spiritual and traditional ceremonies.


Hike and Camp Amidst the Ponies
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Virginia

Mount Rogers National Recreation Area horses (Share the Experience/Ken Schroeder)

 

Mount Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia, and is a popular hike with miles (kilometers) of trails to explore. Unique to the area are two herds of free-roaming wild ponies, which call the high-country home. The ponies help to prevent reforestation of the highland balds and typically wander within Grayson Highlands State Park and the crest zone of the Mount Rogers NRA. Unlike the Spanish-descent wild mustangs of the West, the wild ponies of the Grayson Highlands are of Shetland pony descent. Reminder: enjoy the ponies, but do not approach, feed or pet them. They bite and kick when they feel threatened and human food is bad for them.

 


Go Snow Mountain Biking… Alaska-Style
White Mountains National Recreation Area

White Mountains National Recreation Area snow mountain biking (BLM)

 

Located just an hour’s drive from Fairbanks, the one-million-acre (404,685 ha) White Mountains National Recreation Area (NRA) offers stunning views of Alaska scenery, peaceful solitude, and outstanding opportunities for year-round recreation. Although snowmobiling, dog mushing, and cross-country skiing have long been popular winter pastimes in the White Mountains NRA, lately mountain biking has rapidly become a popular snow sport among weekend warriors and outdoor recreational enthusiasts. With over 240 miles (386 km) of groomed trails, winter biking in the White Mountains NRA is limited only by your skill level, fitness and at times your gear.

 


Take a Journey Through Unique Florida Ecosystems
OHV Trails in the National Forests in Florida

Riding OHV Trails in the National Forests in Florida (USFS)

 

The National Forests in Florida offer off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts a multitude of adventures through ecosystems unique to this part of the country, like the Big Scrub and steeply rolling landscapes of longleaf pine and wiregrass along the Longleaf Trail.

The Apalachicola National Forest, just outside the state capital of Tallahassee, offers over 100 miles (160 km) of exploration in the hardwoods and pines of the Sandhills. Or discover the Ocala National Forest, just north of Orlando, with an expansive range of trails and experiences, from multi-day cruises around the forest to short afternoon spins.

 


Explore the World’s Longest Known Cave System
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park cave tour (NPS)

 

Visitors can choose from a variety of tours to suit every age, fitness and skill level. To follow in the footsteps of the early tourists and their African American cave guides, try the Historic Tour or to get the full experience, walk by lantern light in the Star Chamber or Violet City Lantern tours (both offered seasonally).

The Introduction to Caving Tour, although not easy, is the best choice for families who want to experience real caving which requires hands and knees crawling, while the six-hour Wild Cave Tour is suitable for adventurers at least 16-years old who don’t mind belly-crawling through tight spaces.

 


Visit the only Tropical Rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System
El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico

Mammoth Cave National Park cave tour (NPS)

 

The forest’s relatively small 28,000-acre (11,331 ha) size belies its importance. It differs significantly from all other U.S. National Forests because of its year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. Only in El Yunque can you see giant tree ferns and a variety of tropical birds. You may even catch a rare glimpse of a Puerto Rican parrot or the Elfin-woods warbler.

 


Witness Magnificent Whales
Eight Whale Watching Hotspots

Channel Islands National Park whale (Share the Experience/Harold Epstein

 

If you have ever experienced the sight of a whale slapping the water with a fin, blowing water and air through its spout or even fully breaching the surface in an acrobatic arch, you’ll want to see it again. Here are eight places where you can see whales from the shore or within a short boat ride away. The time of year you are most likely to witness these magnificent mammals will depend on what they are doing— breeding and calving, feeding or migrating.


Go Ice Fishing
Winter Sports at Ashtabula Lake, North Dakota

Ashtabula Lake anglers (USACE)

 

After the suntanned campers and swimmers pack their bags and the brilliant autumn leaves drop on the shores of Ashtabula Lake, cold temperatures come down from Canada and freeze the waters of this 5,400 acre (2185 ha), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake.

When the ice reaches a 10-inch (25 cm) thickness, hardy anglers start erecting temporary shelters on the ice. They use ice augers to bore holes and then cast their lines through to catch the lake’s abundant perch, walleye and northern pike. Later in the season, when the temperatures plunge below zero and the ice thickens to 15 inches (38 cm), anglers tow even bigger, sturdier “castles” onto the ice with heating, bunk beds and other amenities.

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