My Son's List of Top 5 National Seashores

 

By Kimberly Dijkstra

 

She sells more than seashells down by the seashore! She also swims, fishes, hikes, and communes with nature at these rugged, historic coastal locations around the country.

 

Like US National Parks, US National Seashores are run by the National Parks Service, which protects and preserves the barrier islands and sandy beaches for all to enjoy. 

Here are the top 5 national seashores.

 


Assateague Island

 

 

Famously a home to herds of wild ponies, Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland is characterized by wind-swept beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays.  Accessible from Ocean City, Maryland, and Virginia Beach, Virginia, a visit to the remote barrier island feels like standing on the edge of the continent.

 

Swim, surf, camp, explore ー it’s all possible on Assateague Island. Crabbing is a particularly fun family activity. With only a few supplies, you can catch these feisty creatures and maybe even cook them up for dinner.

 

Tourists should keep their distance from the free-roaming horses, but do bring a camera to capture some amazing wildlife photos. 

 

There’s so much to enjoy on Assateague Island, once you go, wild horses couldn’t drag you away.

 


Point Reyes

 

The only national seashore on the west coast, Point Reyes offers visitors more than 1500 species of plants and animals to discover across a variety of landscapes ー expansive grasslands, wide open sandy beaches, rocky headlands, and forested ridges.

 

The Bear Valley Visitor Center is a good place to start to learn about the natural and human history of the area and enjoy exhibits of the local ecosystems, as well as get oriented before you set off for a picnic or a hike. During January and late-March, visitors have the best chance at a glimpse of migrating gray whales. Elephant seals are present in the park year-round, with the best time to observe them being December through March. 

 

A visit to Pierce Point Ranch offers a glimpse into the history of ranching on the peninsula, with opportunities to view tule elk, birds, and wildflowers. Hike to Tomales Point for spectacular views of the coastline in almost every direction.

 


Cape Cod

 

With a lifestyle all its own, Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts is the quintessential American vacation destination. The 40 miles of protected coastal land attracts the most visitors each year of any national seashore. 

 

To get a sense of Cape Cod’s rich maritime history, visit any of many lighthouses in the park, with Highland Light being the oldest and tallest active lighthouse. Highland House Museum offers exhibits about indigeous people who lived on the cape prior to the arrival of Europeans, the salt mill industry, the railroad, domestic crafts, and more. The Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum performs weekly rescue reenactments.

 

Beachgoers enjoy six public beaches with family-friendly activities accessible, such as swimming, bicycling, fishing, and bird-watching. 

 


Padre Island

 

 

Notable for being the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore protects 70 miles of Texas coastline, dunes, prairies, and tidal flats. On one side, the Gulf of Mexico, on the other, the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon that is teeming with life. From shorebirds, songbirds, and waterfowl to mollusks, crustaceans, and fish, the bay is an essential ecosystem to numerous species.

 

In the summer, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings crawl from their nests to the surf and swim out to sea. This exciting event is visible to visitors who are lucky enough to be nearby when it begins. The island is also a safe haven to green, loggerhead, leatherback, and hawksbill sea turtles, all endangered or threatened.

 

The seashore offers recreational opportunities for beachcombing, birding, fishing, camping, windsurfing, kayaking, and off-road driving.

 

As the park has remained undeveloped, the landscape appears the same to visitors today as it did to Native Americans and early European settlers, whose vessels shipwrecked on shore and artifacts are still being discovered today. 

 


 Fire Island

 

 

The 30-mile long barrier island known as Fire Island separates the Great South Bay of Long Island from the Atlantic Ocean. For decades the island has been an escape from big city life ー for beachgoers, nature lovers, bird watchers, and those seeking solitude. 

 

The Fire Island Lighthouse stands tall with its iconic white and black stripes. Inside is a museum and gift shop, and visitors may climb the tower for a fee. Down the eastern end of the island, the Watch Hill Visitor Center offers access to Fire Island’s most extensive salt march, campgrounds, ranger-led interpretive programs, including guided canoe trips, and more. 

 

In the middle of the island, the Sailors Haven Visitor Center is where you’ll be able to join a ranger-guided tour of the Sunken Forest, a rare, primeval forest that is hidden behind the interdune. Though the forest floor is at sea level, it feels lower, and unlike anywhere else.

 

Fire Island is unique because among the sand dunes, beach grasses, and dense forests are residential communities, each with their own individual personality. Connected by boardwalks instead of paved roads, you’ll be able to meander from town to town and get to know the locals, as well as the tourists who flock to town each summer. 

 

No cars are allowed on the island, so to reach your destination, you must take a ferry from Bay Shore, Sayville, or Patchogue. Some communities are accessible by foot if you park at Robert Moses State Park and walk several miles. The view is so pretty, the long walk will feel like a breeze.

 

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