The Natural National Places

By BoatUS Trailering Editors

Hitch up the trailer and head to our 58 National Parks, 10 National Seashores, 4 National Lakeshores, and 18 National Recreation Areas.

They add up to more than 43,000 miles of shoreline and 4 million acres of water to explore in your trailerable boat. Here are a few that have caught our eye.

National Park: Biscane Bay, Florida

Photo of Biscayne Bay National Park

Within sight of Miami, only four percent of its 181,500 acres is land. Florida's Intracoastal Waterway runs through Biscayne Bay National Park.

Bragging rights:

Convoy Point, where the Visitors Center is located, is the go-to place for south Florida windsurfers.

Closest boat ramps:

Herbert Hoover Marina at Homestead Bayfront Park (9698 SW 328 Street, Homestead), open 24 hours for annual pass holders; otherwise, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Matheson Hammock Marina (9610 Old Cutler Road, Miami), $12 launch on weekdays and $15 on weekends. Black Point Marina, (24775 SW 87 Avenue, Miami), 6 lanes.

Don't miss:

Boca Chita Key, with the park's lighthouse, and the coral reefs located along the eastern water edge of the park.

Be aware:

Mooring balls are free and are located around some of the boat wrecks, so use those where found. More mooring buoys will likely be on the way once the park completes its mooring buoy plan. Anchoring is OK; just be careful where you do it so as not to damage the coral reefs.

National Seashore: Padre Island,Texas

Photo of fishing off Padre island

Padre Island National Seashore (also called "PINS") is on North Padre Island. South Padre Island, 35 miles long and only a half-mile wide at its widest point, has 5,000 residents and more than 1 million visitors every year.

Bragging rights:

At 70 miles, the seashore is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Boat ramps:

The boat ramp at Padre Island National Seashore was expanded five years ago and now can handle approximately 120 vehicles and trailers. Even after doubling the size of the lot during the expansion, it continues to fill to capacity on many summer weekend days. Due to the distance involved when driving from Corpus Christi, this has been a source of frustration for area boaters when they arrive to find it already filled. There is no overflow parking so the only option is to either wait for someone to leave or head back to the ramps in the city.


For one-time users, entrance to the park is $10.00 and a one-day boat ramp fee is $5. Frequent users of the boat ramp typically buy an annual park pass to the National Seashore for $20 and purchase an additional one-year ramp-use permit for $10.

Don't miss:

Flocks of as many as 300,000 shorebirds have been sighted feeding on the shallow mud flats along the bay. The area serves as the wintering grounds for approximately 80 percent of the North American redhead duck population as well as a variety of other waterfowl. In addition, there are unusual bird sightings, such as some flamingos that were seen last year. Many of the fishing guides have become accomplished birders as well in order to supplement their income with bird-watching tours.


Baffin Bay has hard, rock-like clusters of ancient tubeworm masses that can cause prop and hull damage. In addition, the Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens and National Park Service rangers watch to ensure that prop scars are not being cut into seagrass beds. Inexperienced boaters will need good charts.

Not allowed:

PWCs, kite surfing, or air boats.

National Park: Lake Clark, Alaska

Photo of a boat on Lake Clark in Alaska

If you take your boat trailer here, let us know about it as there are absolutely no roads within the park. So, one might ask, why even have a park? Access is by airplane. The recreational boater usually hires a fishing guide though boat rentals are common, too at The Farm lodge. That said, this is a remarkable and distant place, 100 miles southwest of Anchorage (an hour's flight to the park). Point in fact: There are no news releases on the Lake Clark website. In 2011, 4,300 people visited Lake Clark National Park. That's fewer than the daily number of visitors to Yellowstone and Clark is twice the size (2.6 million acres). The lake is 42 miles long and nearby Crescent Lake (nine miles long by four miles wide) is also popular for boating.

Bragging rights:

When you're not on the water, make plans to go to the Dick Proenneke cabin on Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park, which he built using only hand tools and his own labor. He began work on the cabin in 1967 at the age of 51 and lived there until 1998, when he was 82. The craftsmanship is part of a documentary, "Alone in the Wilderness" shown on PBS stations.

Boat ramps:


While you're there:

Bears are common and so are warnings about keeping your distance from them. This includes not leaving food scraps anywhere when hiking. This is a revered salmon fishery and that's one of the reasons Lake Clark became a national park. Red sockeye (June-July) and coho (August-September) salmon, arctic char (June-September), northern pike, and lake trout are found in Lake Clark and the nearby Crescent Lake waters. Waterskiing is popular here, too.

International Peace Memorial: Perry's Monument, Ohio

Photo of International Peace Memorial: Perry's Monument, Ohio

This is the site of the Battle of Lake Erie between Britain, Canada, and the United States in October 1813. Nine U.S. ships under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry captured six British Royal Navy vessels. It was one of the biggest battles of the War of 1812 and gave the United States control of Lake Erie for the remainder of the war.

Bragging rights:

While under renovation now, it's expected that visitors will be able once again to climb 317 feet to the top of the Perry Monument by mid-June of this year and see the Lake Erie Islands and the shores of Ohio and Michigan, as well as across Lake Erie to Ontario, Canada.

Boat ramps:

Put-in-Bay Yacht Club is free to members and $5 for public use. Ramps at Catawba Island State Park, Kelley's Island State Park, and South Bass Island State Park are free.

Don't miss:

The Put-in-Bay Butterfly House on South Bass Island has more than 500 different types of butterflies that have been brought here from around the world. For only $7 ($4 for kids), you can relax in the educational butterfly garden for as long as you'd like. Nearby is the Cedar Point Amusement Park with 17 roller coasters - the most in any amusement park in North America.

National Recreation Area: Lake Mead, Nevada-Arizona

Less than 30 miles from Las Vegas, there's 1.5 million acres where the Mohave Desert, Sonoran Desert, and Great Basin Desert meet with a mix of mountains and clear blue water. The construction of the Hoover Dam across the Colorado River in 1931 as a way to put people to work during the Great Depression created Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.

Bragging rights:

In 1964, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area became the first of 18 created in the United States. Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the Western Hemisphere and the recreation area is twice the size of Rhode Island.

Boat ramps:

There are ramps throughout the lake's 820-mile shoreline. An entry pass is good for 1-7 days and runs $10 per vehicle; a "lake use fee" allows boaters to launch a vessel and explore both lakes, and costs $16 per vessel ($26 total for a week). Annual passes are also available. Either state?s fishing license along with an additional Colorado River Fishing Stamp is good throughout the park - boaters do not need to carry a license from both states to fish the waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mohave (no matter where they put in from).

Don't miss:

The Narrows in the north part of the lake; the Black Canyon Springs south of Hoover Dam, with hot and cold water ranging from 55 to 136 degrees coming out of the rocks; and the Paint Pots at Fortification Hill. Seeing Hoover Dam from the water is a great photo opportunity. Desert bighorn sheep are common along the shoreline.


As of January 2013, PWCs with two-stroke engines are no longer allowed on Lake Mead or Mohave. However, if your PWC has a direct-injection two- or four-stroke engine that meets the EPA 2006 emission standards, it's allowed to operate here.


The snowpack in the mountains, the source of water for Lake Mead, is at 60 percent of normal this year. Still, lake levels are expected to be adequate for boat ramp use.

National Seashore: Cape Lookout, North Carolina

Photo of National Seashore: Cape Lookout, North Carolina

Stretching 56 miles across four barrier islands, this undeveloped beach offers wild horses on Shackleford Banks, and islands reachable by ferry or your own boat.

Bragging rights:

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is the only light in the country operating 24 hours a day. Cape Lookout National Seashore is a nesting site for two threatened species of sea turtle: the loggerhead and the green turtle.

Boat ramps:

There are no boat ramps within the boundaries of the seashore, but there are a number nearby. Ocracoke Island, Harkers Island Fishing Center (, $15 to launch), Oysters Creek, and North River Strait's Landing are some places to launch. There's also a ramp on the Intracoastal Waterway - behind the Visitors Center.

For the kids:

Climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on Wednesdays between May 16 and September 22 this year. Cost is $4 for children under 12 years of age. Its 216 steps take you 163 feet to the top.


Allowed in one of 10 designated areas only. They are well-marked and the areas have no-wake zones upon entering.

Apostle Islands National Seashore, Wisconsin

There are 22 islands just offshore of the 12-mile mainland along the Lake Superior shoreline.

A miscount came up with 12 islands, hence the name, but by the time the new number of islands was realized, everyone was already calling this area the "Apostle Islands." Boats are allowed on 14 of the islands, using public docks on a first come, first served basis for a $10/night fee.

Bragging rights:

The National Park Service's largest and oldest collection of lighthouses is located in the Apostle Islands National Seashore. Five of the six light stations will undergo some restoration this year and construction/renovation will be completed in 2013.

Boat Ramps:

Public boat launches are located on the mainland in Ashland, Bayfield, Cornucopia, Little Sand Bay, Red Cliff, and Washburn. The cost is $5/launch in Bayfield, $5/launch at Little Sand Bay.

Don't Miss:

The rock formations and sea caves on Devils Island. When the surf is heavy, the sound can be heard onshore. Chippewa Indians believed it to be the sound of evil spirits.


Not allowed.


Because bad weather can occur quickly, boaters should carry enough provisions in the event they have to remain docked on an island for a while. Nesting birds on Gull and Eagle islands require boaters to remain 500 feet offshore between May 15 and September 1.

Recreation Area: Holter Lake, Montana

Located north of Helena, Montana, Holter Dam created the 24-mile-long lake while raising the Missouri River's water level more than 100 feet. This is a prime trout fishing area and camping area that includes not only Holter Lake, but also Log Gulch and Departure Point.

Bragging rights:

This is a go-to place for kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.

Boat Ramps:

Beartooth Landing is canoe/kayak only. Improvements were made in 2009 to the Holter Lake boat ramp operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which now has three lanes. The other BLM ramp is at Log Gulch Recreation Site, where a two-lane ramp was constructed in 2010. The BLM ramps cost $2/day.

Don't Miss:

A 5-mile-long narrow section between the upper and lower Holter lakes called Gates of the Mountains. Meriwether Lewis wrote about this site when he and William Clark came through the area in July 1805, as they followed the Missouri River west toward the Pacific Ocean. 

This article was published in the Winter 2012 issue of Trailering Magazine.


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