In the United States, national monuments are any place of scenic, scientific, or historical importance. They're usually designated by presidential proclamation as a way to preserve the area or landmark and its significance. There are a lot of types of national monuments in the U.S., ranging from vast open spaces and unique geographical formations to forts, statues, and symbols of the country's past. Some you can visit on a quick day trip. Others are immersive experiences that transport you to another time and place.
When it comes to national monuments, there's no better place than the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There are 18 monuments here, not to mention a handful of museums. Visit memorials to some of the nation's most influential presidents, as well as those honoring the brave veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice defending America's freedom.
Philadelphia once served as the U.S. capital and played an important role in the early history of the country. One of the most recognizable monuments here is the Liberty Bell. The engraving reads, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof," which has served as an inspirational rallying cry throughout history for those fighting against slavery and during the Civil Rights Movement. No one knows when or why the bell cracked in the first place. The wide fissure seen today is the result of unsuccessful attempts to repair it.
Devil's Tower National Monument is located in the Black Hills of Wyoming, jutting up 867 feet from the prairie below. Pioneers heading west in the mid-1800s used it as a landmark for how far they'd traveled. Today, the monument maintains the foreboding, cracked appearance that it did way back then. Hiking trails surround Devil's Tower, and camping is available in the park, so there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal. Believe it or not, rock climbing on the tower is permitted.
Chiseled into a mountain in the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic monuments in the U.S. More than three million people visit Mount Rushmore every year. It took more than 400 artists about 14 years to complete this piece of art, featuring the faces of four of the most influential and recognizable presidents in American history.
The American West has a lot of grand, breathtaking landscapes, and nowhere is this more evident than at the Colorado National Monument. Canyons and valleys carved into the gorgeous red rock create an amazing panoramic view, and there are plenty of ways to explore it. Follow the famous rim ride overlooks or use the extensive trail system for hiking or mountain bike through the monument, keeping your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and deer along the way. Camping and mountain climbing are also permitted in designated areas.
It might surprise some people to know that the oldest city in the U.S. is not on the northeast coast of the Atlantic but much farther south. St. Augustine, Florida, was founded in 1565, and construction on the Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672. This stronghold was erected by the Spanish to protect the city against a British invasion and is the oldest masonry structure still standing in the U.S. today. The walls are made of limestone and shell fossils, which absorbed the force of cannonballs, making the Castillo seemingly impenetrable.
The Vermillion Cliffs cover 294,000 acres across northern Arizona and southern Utah. This monument is not for the faint of heart, but adventure seekers and experienced backpackers are rewarded with amazing views of the towering cliffs and canyons made of colorful sandstone. This monument doesn't have any paved roads, so the only way to see it is on foot. There are two campgrounds outside of the monument to set up base camp, but no buildings, food, or water exist inside. If you're up for this adventure, apply for a hiking permit and make sure you come prepared.
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable monuments in the United States. The statue was a gift from France, dedicated in 1886. It's made of copper that has developed the familiar green patina over the passing years. Every year, millions of people take the ferry ride through New York City's harbor to visit the Statue of Liberty. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 and remains a reminder of acceptance and hope.
Located in southern Idaho, the Craters of the Moon was created from lava expelled over eight significant eruptions between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. Today, it covers 618 square miles. While the area is dormant, scientists believe that lava will begin to flow again within the next thousand years. The other-worldly landscape features hiking trails of various difficulties as well as cross-country and downhill skiing in the winter. Camping is permitted and recommended - the area is a designated International Dark Sky Park, an ideal spot for stargazing.
It was at Fort Sumter National Historical Park, at 4:30 am on April 12, 1861, that the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Union troops stationed here were bombarded with Confederate cannons for 34 hours until they eventually surrendered the fort to the South. Today, the visitor's center sits where Gadsden's Wharf once was, significant as this is where thousands of African slaves entered the country. Fort Sumter is an important reminder of America's past, one that should never be forgotten.