As I indicated in yesterday's post , today is Presidents' Day  here in America. To celebrate this federal holiday – and explore the sheer variety of history-related attractions available in the United States – I'll be discussing the country's top historical sites and presidential attractions with Michelle Wargo and Mary McBryde on Heartbeat Radio for Women  today at noon EST (9 a.m. PST). Although I hope you'll tune in to the live stream, I thought I'd offer a sampling of the topics that I'll be covering in less than an hour.
Last month, I told you about the life-changing, three-week road trip  that my mother and I took along America's East Coast – a trip that not only inspired my future goal of becoming a travel writer but also instilled within me a passion for my country's history. After all, it's hard not to be impressed by such sites as Colonial Williamsburg , Mount Vernon , Monticello , the National Mall , and the Statue of Liberty , especially when you're a wide-eyed adolescent, as I was in the summer of 1988. While all Americans – and foreign travelers, too – can benefit from visiting such historical attractions, these sites are especially valuable and inspiring for children. If nothing else, traveling to such places will ensure firsthand experiences that can help to make students' history books come alive right before their eyes. Sometimes, such hands-on history lessons can even result in a lifelong fascination with historic places – as evidenced by my previous posts about Louisiana plantations , presidential monuments , legendary taverns , and historic racetracks .
Since today is Presidents' Day, it seems that there's no better time to consider this country's assortment of historical and presidential attractions – one of which you're sure to find in a county or state near you.
If you hope to learn more about the historical sites offered throughout the United States, the first place to start is the National Park Service (NPS) , which oversees a wide array of intriguing, budget-friendly sites. Perhaps one of the most popular attractions is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial  (13000 Hwy. 244, Keystone, 605/574-2523 or 605/574-3165, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Oct.-Apr., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily May-mid-Aug., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily mid-Aug.-Sept., free admission, $11 annual parking pass for cars, RVs, and motorcycles) in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota. Besides being featured in such films as North by Northwest (1959) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), sculptor Gutzon Borglum's incredible creation also celebrates four aspects of America's unique history – specifically, the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States – through the enormous, granite visages of four U.S. presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, respectively.
To explore these four presidents in more depth, you can visit several other NPS-operated sites, such as the George Washington Birthplace National Monument  (1732 Popes Creek Rd., 804/224-1732, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, free) in Westmoreland County, Virginia; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial  (900 Ohio Dr. SW, 202/426-6841 or 202/485-9880, 24 hours daily, free) in Washington, D.C.'s National Mall; the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park  (2995 Lincoln Farm Rd., Hodgenville, 270/358-3137 or 270/358-3138, 8 a.m.-4:45 p.m. daily Labor Day-Memorial Day, 8 a.m.-6:45 p.m. daily Memorial Day-Labor Day, free) in central Kentucky; and the two-unit Theodore Roosevelt National Park  (701/623-4730 or 701/842-2333, park 24 hours daily, South Unit visitor center 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, North Unit visitor center 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily Apr.-mid-Nov. and Fri.-Sun. mid-Nov.-Mar., $20 annual park pass, $10 weekly vehicle pass, $5 weekly individual pass) in western North Dakota. Another interesting attraction is Massachusetts' Adams National Historical Park  (135 Adams St., Quincy, 617/770-1175, park and visitor center 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily mid-Apr. to mid-Nov., visitor center 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. mid-Nov. to mid-Apr., $5 adults, children under 16 free), which, as I mentioned yesterday, celebrates two presidents, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.
While some NPS sites are free, if you're planning to visit a few that charge entrance fees, such as Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Adams National Historical Park, consider purchasing the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass . For $80 per year, this annual pass allows a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and up to three adults unlimited access to all national park units, national forests, BLM lands, and other federal recreation sites that charge an entrance fee. Seniors can purchase a lifetime pass for $10, while disabled individuals can opt for a free lifetime pass. Given such an amazing deal, you have little excuse not to visit several historical sites in the coming year.
The National Park Service also oversees several battlefields and military parks. Although some travelers make regular pilgrimages to such historic places, visiting these attractions can be a rather sobering experience for most of us. Nevertheless, battlefields highlight a significant facet of America's history – and can certainly be impactful places to visit. Two notable options are Pennsylvania's Gettysburg National Military Park  (1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, 717/334-1124 or 717/334-0909, grounds 6 a.m.-7 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., museum 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., free park admission, museum $10.50 adults, $9.50 seniors and military personnel, $6.50 children 6-18, children under 6 free), which represents a major turning point in the American Civil War, and Montana's Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument  (Crow Agency, 406/638-2621 or 406/638-3217, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily late Oct.-Mar., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-May, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily June-July, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Aug.-Sept., $10 vehicles, $5 individuals), where Native Americans mounted one of the last armed efforts to preserve their way of life.
Of course, the National Park Service doesn't have a monopoly on historical attractions. If you're curious about America's earliest presidents, you'll find four well-preserved presidential estates in Virginia. As mentioned yesterday, these lovely properties include George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens  (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon, 703/780-2000, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Nov.-Feb., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Mar. and Sept.-Oct., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Apr.-Aug., $15 adults, $14 seniors 62 and over, $7 children 6-11, children under 6 free), Thomas Jefferson's Monticello  (931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville, 434/984-9822, hours vary daily, $22 adults Mar.-Oct., $17 adults Nov.-Feb., $8 children 6-11, children under 6 free), James Madison's Montpelier  (11407 Constitution Hwy., Orange, 540/672-2728, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., $16 adults, $8 children 6-14, children under 6 free), and James Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland  (1000 James Monroe Pkwy., Charlottesville, 434/293-8000, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., $10 adults, $9 seniors 60 and older, $5 children 6-11 and local residents). If you're also interested in more modern presidents, consider visiting Florida's Harry S. Truman Little White House  (111 Front St., Key West, 305/294-9911, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $16 adults, $14 seniors, $5.50 children 5-12, children under 5 free), the wintertime White House from 1946 to 1952 and now a museum that focuses on Cold War politics and the Truman administration.
No matter where your political leanings lie, presidential libraries can be engaging, entertaining, and enlightening, offering interactive exhibits and countless resources – which not only highlight the life and character of certain presidents but also the times in which they governed. At the present time, America boasts 13 presidential libraries, from the recently renovated Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum  (40 Presidential Dr., Simi Valley, 805/577-4000 or 800/410-8354, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $12 adults, $9 seniors 62 and over, $6 children 11-17, children under 11 free) in southern California, to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum  (1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, 501/374-4242, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun., $7 adults, $5 seniors, students, and military personnel, $3 children 6-17, children under 6 free) in central Arkansas, to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum  (303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, 616/254-0400, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, $7 adults, $6 seniors and military personnel, $5 students, $3 children 6-18, children under 6 free) in western Michigan. For a complete list of the country's presidential libraries, consult the National Archives .
Hopefully, these travel ideas have inspired you to plan a historic trip across America. Of course, if you've already visited some of this country's varied historic sites and presidential attractions, which one was your favorite?
Naturally, no matter where you've been or where you plan to travel next, I hope you have a wonderful President's Day!
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello  / Text © 2011 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Florida Keys , Moon Michigan , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans, which will be published in Winter 2012.