Admittedly, Mammoth Cave is an easy pick – it is, after all, a wondrous place above and below the ground – and the other caves preserved by America’s 84-million-acre National Park System aren’t too shabby either. But, as I contemplate the many national park units that I’ve experienced over the years, I find it difficult to narrow down my favorite ones. From the exotic rain forests of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to the multicolored cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the lounging alligators of Everglades National Park, there are innumerable reasons to visit the 392 locales that constitute America’s most precious properties. With so many activities and landscapes available, jewels like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon are especially wonderful places to spend a family vacation.From forlorn Civil War battlefields to regal presidential monuments, many of the country’s most impactful federally designated historic sites extend along the East Coast.Still, beyond the marvelous waterfalls, geysers, beaches, deserts, mountains, wetlands, redwood trees, red-rock cliffs, and glacial lakes that define most of America’s national parks, there are also numerous sites of historic significance, many of which provide engrossing lessons about this nation’s incredible heritage. Children especially will benefit from such first-hand exposure to the places and people that have helped to shape America’s past, present, and future. From forlorn Civil War battlefields to regal presidential monuments, many of the country’s most impactful federally designated historic sites extend along the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida, offering an intriguing road trip experience for families and history buffs alike.
When I was an adolescent, my mother and I took our own memorable East Coast road trip over the course of three, fun-filled weeks, and along the way, we visited such awe-inspiring sites as the Bunker Hill Monument and U.S.S. Constitution in Boston National Historical Park (Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA, 617/242-5601 or 617/242-5642, hours vary daily, fees vary though many sites are free), the various attractions of which shed some light on the events that led to the American Revolution. As mentioned in a previous post, the National Mall and Memorial Parks (900 Ohio Dr. SW, Washington, DC, 202/233-3520 or 202/485-9880, 24 hours daily, free admission) is also an impressive collection of famous sites, including the elegant Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials, the hard-to-miss Washington Monument, and the overwhelming Vietnam Veterans Memorial, among other reverent sites.
Another not-to-be-missed attraction that I initially encountered on my long-ago East Coast trip was the inspiring Statue of Liberty National Monument (Liberty Island, NY, 212/363-3200, hours vary daily, free admission, ferry rate $12 adults, $10 seniors 62 and over, $5 children 4-12), a gift from France to the United States and now a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy. While you’ll find plenty of American Revolution-era attractions along the East Coast, those interested in the American Civil War certainly won’t be disappointed. Here, you’ll find such locales as the haunting Gettysburg National Military Park (1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA, 717/334-1124, hours vary daily, free park admission, museum fee $10.50 adults, $9.50 seniors and military personnel, $6.50 children 6-18, children under 6 free), once the site of the war’s bloodiest battle; the unnerving Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site (511 10th St., Washington, DC, 202/426-6924, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, free), where President Lincoln was assassinated; Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Hwy. 24, Appomattox, VA, 434/352-8987, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $5-10 vehicles, $3-4 adults, children under 16 free), where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865, thereby ending the war; Fort Sumter National Monument (1214 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island, SC, 848/883-3123, hours vary daily, free admission though ferry rates apply), where the first shots of the war erupted in April 1861; and Dry Tortugas National Park (68 miles west of Key West, FL, 305/242-7700, hours vary daily, $5 adults, children under 17 free), where Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned for participating in Lincoln’s assassination.
For more information about these and other East Coast attractions, consult such Moon travel guides as Moon Metro Boston, Moon Metro New York City, Moon Handbooks Pennsylvania, Moon Metro Washington D.C., Moon Virginia, Moon South Carolina, and Moon Florida. If you have the time, try to take advantage of this weekend’s free admission at a wide array of national park units, including the East Coast historic sites that routinely charge an entrance fee. And, of course, don’t forget to enter Moon’s current contest–a free annual pass, after all, will ensure you and your family free park admission throughout the year!