America's 17 Most Beautiful CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Projects

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On March 31, 1933, in the throes of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was an environmental work program designed to tackle massive unemployment rates at the time. More than three million men worked for the CCC during the nine years it existed, creating shelters and trails, planting trees, and helping environmental conservation and management efforts. In total, the CCC worked on over 800 parks across the United States. These are some of the most beautiful CCC projects you can still visit today.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park on a clear sunny day.
Credit: Kyle Glenn/ Unsplash

Before the CCC, Big Bend was a state park in southwest Texas that was difficult for visitors to access, thanks to a four-hour drive on a rugged dirt road. It was so remote, in fact, that the U.S. Army didn’t want Big Bend to be a CCC project. They rejected it twice, but local residents persisted, and the CCC finally arrived in 1934. Corps members constructed the road to the park, as well as stone cottages on the land, trails, and more. Today, Big Bend stretches across 801,163 acres and butts up against the Rio Grande River on the border between Mexico and the United States. Big Bend encompasses vast elevation changes, and is home to a myriad of flora and fauna, including 1,200 plant species, 75 mammal species, 450 bird species, and 56 reptile species which thrive in a diverse landscape consisting of rugged mountains, limestone gorges, and desert basins.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Landscape with an aerial view of wetlands in Everglades National Park at sunset.
Credit: SimonSkafar/ iStock

Everglades National Park is one of the largest wetlands in the world, covering 1.5 million acres of pine flatwoods, marshes, and mangroves. The national park is home to 10 threatened species and 13 endangered species, including the leatherback turtle. Everglades owes its status as a must-see national park to the dedicated, Black CCC members who endured the grueling task of removing wild cotton overrun by an invasive bollworm that threatened the crop’s cultivation.

Zion National Park, Utah

Landscape of The Watchman and the North Fork Virgin River at sunset in Zion National Park.
Credit: benedek/ iStock

Corps members spent all nine years of the program’s tenure working at Zion National Park. They were responsible not just for building trails, campgrounds, parking lots, and park buildings, but also helping to fight forest fires and reducing flooding from the Virgin River. Today, the park consists of 229 square miles of red-rock cliffs, canyons, and natural arches. The condor, North America’s largest flying bird, lives in the park. Zion Canyon, one of the most well-known features of the park, is about 2,000 feet deep.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Sunset in Grand Canyon National Park from Pima Point view point in Arizona.
Credit: Eloi_Omella/ iStock

The Grand Canyon is one of the most famous attractions in the United States, carved out by the Colorado River over the last 70 million years. It’s home to the most remote town in the continental U.S. — Supai Village. The first CCC group to arrive at the Grand Canyon went to work on the South Rim. We can thank that company for the park’s Historic Community Building, plus the landscaping, the stone wall along the rim, and the Bright Angel Trail. Other CCC groups arrived shortly after, establishing camps at the bottom of the canyon, on the North Rim, and at Desert View. These camps created the Colorado River Trail, which was the most difficult trail to build in the entire canyon. Keep an eye out on the Colorado River today for hard-to-spot fish — only eight species live in the river because the weather is so volatile.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Colorful hues form the canyons along the Blue Mesa Trail in Petrified Forest National Park.
Credit: Jeffrey Ross/ iStock

Scattered with rainbow-colored chunks of petrified wood, fossils, and petroglyphs, Petrified Forest National Park encompasses 221,390 acres, including more than 800 archaeological sites from over 10,000 years of human occupation. The park’s CCC camps were established at the Rainbow Forest and the Puerco River. Most of the men came from Pennsylvania and other eastern states to work on the projects. Once they arrived, they engineered the park’s water line, built the Painted Desert Inn, constructed roads, and improved trails.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

A scenic view from Waterrock Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway in early October at peak fall color.
Credit: GreenStock/ iStock

The idea to create the Blue Ridge Parkway — the longest and highest continuous route in Appalachia — emerged from a visit to another CCC project. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was inspired after a trip to see the in-progress Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. He dreamed of a road linking Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway was born. The parkway took more than 50 years to complete, though the CCC didn’t create the entire thing themselves.They did kickstart the project, however, by surveying the mountains and charting the parkway’s course.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains with grass and clouds at Shenandoah National Parks.
Credit: LightScribe/ iStock

The CCC began building Shenandoah National Park's infrastructure well before the park was officially dedicated. It was home to some of the first camps in the corps. Congress wanted to showcase the CCC’s effectiveness and chose this location because of how close it was to Washington, D.C. At one point, 10 camps and more than a thousand men worked on projects in the park that included constructing the scenic mountain road Skyline Drive, fire towers, numerous trails, and more. Today, Shenandoah encompasses nearly 200,000 acres, and contains two historic landmarks (Skyline Drive and Rapidan Camp) as well as 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Grinnell Lake at Glacier National Park.
Credit: AZCat/ iStock

From snow-capped mountains and glaciers to waterfalls and lakes, Glacier National Park is home to a wide variety of habitats, animals, and plant life. Mountain goats are ubiquitous here, as are “Jammers,” a fleet of red vintage buses designed to transport visitors around the park that launched in the 1930s. In 1929, there was a fire in the southwest corner of Glacier National Park. When the CCC arrived four years later, rehabilitation and restoration in the burned area was a top priority. Another fire in 1936 initiated even more recovery efforts by the CCC. The Corps was also responsible for creating the first transmountain telephone cable line. It was six and half miles long across Logan Pass.

Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Trillium Lake and Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon.
Credit: Mark Lee/ iStock

You likely know Mount Hood National Forest from its namesake, the 12,240-foot-tall stratovolcano. The peak separates the forest into two distinct ecosystems: a rainforest on one side and a dry pine forest on the other. The jewel of the CCC’s work in Mount Hood National Forest is Timberline Lodge, a ski lodge that’s a national historic landmark and brings in about two million visitors every year. It was the largest undertaking for the CCC in the forest, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt honored it with a formal dedication visit. Aside from the lodge, the CCC was also responsible for campgrounds, trails, and picnic shelters throughout the forest.

Huron-Manistee National Forests, Michigan

Trees at Manistee National Forest in Michigan.
Credit: Jonxlee7/ Shutterstock

Today, Manistee National Forest is home to some of the most extensive pine tracts on the planet, largely thanks to the hard work of the CCC. When corps members arrived, they led reforestation efforts by planting trees in large open spaces, maintaining bridges, trails, and roads, and removing forest fire debris and underbrush to prevent future fires. Throughout the state of Michigan, the CCC planted about 485 million pine trees — more than any other state — 75,000 acres of which comprise Manistee National Forest. The forest was combined in 1945 with the Huron National Forest for administration purposes, and now visitors can explore lakes, rivers, beaches, and more.

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Devils Tower at sunset in Wyoming.
Credit: Checubus/ Shutterstock

In 1906, Roosevelt created the first national monument in the country — Devils Tower. The monolith is made of hexagonal sedimentary rock columns, stretching to the height of four football fields. The CCC’s hard work at Devils Tower helped visitation numbers greatly increase throughout the time they were stationed there and after. Corps members arrived in 1935 and set about building an administration building and visitor center featuring a museum where people could learn about the monument and the park’s history. The group also helped improve roads and trails.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Credit: zrfphoto/ iStock

Although the CCC arrived in the Badlands of North Dakota in 1934, Theodore Roosevelt National Park wasn’t officially established until 13 years later. The future park had three CCC camps: one on the west bank of the Little Missouri River (now the park’s South Unit), and two on the north bank of the river (now the entrance to the North Unit). One of those two eventually moved to the east bank of the river. The CCC was responsible for building picnic shelters, park entrances, roads, and trails. Today, the park covers 70,488 acres. It’s the only national park in the country that’s named after an actual person. The North and South Units of the park both have scenic drives, but the park’s third section, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, is not accessible by paved roads.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Beautiful fall colors of Acadia National Park in Maine.
Credit: f11photo/ Shutterstock

Acadia National Park covers 49,000 acres of woods, mountains, and beaches. It was the first national park east of the Mississippi River — and most of the park itself is on an island. Acadia was already 17 years old when the CCC arrived, but it was still mostly overgrown and undeveloped — making it hard for visitors to safely explore the Maine wilderness. The most-loved projects of the CCC that still remain in Acadia are Ocean Path and the Perpendicular Trail. The CCC also created the two campgrounds in the park and worked on forestry management projects.

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

View of the Haleakalā volcano summit on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
Credit: sphraner/ iStock

The Hawaiian island of Maui consists of two volcanoes, one of which is a shield volcano called Haleakalā, which means “House of Sun.” The volcano’s summit is just over 10,000 feet tall. In the past, Haleakalā was a favorite burial spot for Hawaiian royalty, and visitors today can still see archaeological sites and sacred places. In Haleakalā National Park, CCC workers used mules to carry everything that was too heavy to lift into and out of the craters that they camped inside. The CCC focused on removing invasive plant species and constructed three trails and park administration structures that are used today.

Florida Caverns State Park, Florida

Colored lights in the cave at Florida Caverns State Park.
Credit: IrinaK/ Shutterstock

In the late 1930s, a government contractor discovered the future site of Florida Caverns State Park by accident. He had shimmied his way into a cave opening and discovered the unique rock formations inside. A CCC camp arrived in 1938 and proceeded to dig out three cavernous rooms, create underground trails, and build a visitors center. Today, Florida Caverns is the only state park in Florida which allows visitors to explore underground caves and rock formations, including sinkholes, bluffs, springs, and speleothems (mineral deposits similar to stalagmites and stalactites).

Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona.
Credit: AZCat/ Shutterstock

Known for its unique volcanic rock formations, Chiricahua covers 19 square miles in the mountain range of the same name. Visitors will find narrow rock columns, balancing rocks, stone spires, and more — all created by erosion of ash that formed the land 27 million years ago. The CCC arrived at Chiricahua National Monument 10 years after it was established in 1924. They created hiking trails, built administrative and visitor buildings, and upgraded the highway to reach the monument. The corps members are perhaps best known for building the Echo Trail, a trail up a steep canyon that engineers deemed an impossible construction feat. A local named Ed Riggs led the crew who built it, and when he died, his gravestone read: “He engineered the construction of Echo Trail. He wishes this to be his monument.”

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Landscape of badlands at Zabriskie Point at sunrise in Death Valley National Park in California.
Credit: libre de droit/ iStock

Death Valley was a new national monument when the CCC arrived in 1933, having been established for only eight months. About 400 men divided into 12 camps constructed scenic lookouts, campgrounds, 500 miles of road, public bathrooms, and picnic areas. Some of the structures the men built for their own personal housing still stand in the park today. The vast desert and salt flats contain the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level — Badwater Basin. Death Valley is generally referred to as the hottest place on Earth. In 2018, temperatures during the day topped 125 degrees Fahrenheit for four days straight.

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