Glacier, Zion, Acadia, and Dry Tortugas National Parks probably ring a bell. You might have seen stunning photos of these locations that attempt to capture their grandeur. But did you know the National Park System also has historical parks?
National Historical Parks may not be as familiar in name, but they’re just as crucial to preserving our nation’s history. Maybe you’ve never heard of Minute Man National Historical Park or Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. But let’s consider why you should start adding these destinations to your bucket list, too.
What Is a National Historical Park?
According to the National Park Service, National Historical Parks “are commonly areas of greater physical extent and complexity than national historic sites.” This means a designation of “site” refers to one location like an archeological site or the childhood home of a former president. Conversely, a “park” will encompass more land area and more historical significance.
For example, Appomattox Court House National Historical Park isn’t just one building. It’s an entire town from the 1800s and the site of one of the most famous surrenders in American history. In addition to the Civil War surrender of General Lee at the McLean House, visitors can also walk the battlefield grounds on the property.
➔ If you’re wondering about national monuments, find out: Is a National Monument Considered a National Park?
What Is the Difference Between a National Park and a National Historic Site?
According to the National Park Service, a national park “contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.” A monument preserves a nationally significant resource but is generally very small, typically one structure. A national historic site is much smaller but maintains a historically important area usually associated with American military history.
Other designations include national preserves, seashores, battlefields, and recreation areas. National scenic trails differ from national historic trails, and national memorials differ from monuments.
Although the nomenclature can seem confusing, what’s most important to understand is the importance of our nation’s history — military, cultural, scientific, and natural.
How Many National Historical Parks Are There in the U.S.?
The United States has more than 19 naming designations within the National Park Service. Presently, you can visit 62 national historical parks. These include lesser-known and less-visited sites like Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Louisiana and Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ohio. The country also has 73 national historic sites.
The 9 Top-Rated National Historical Parks to Add to Your Bucket List
Because the U.S. has so many national historical parks, it’s almost impossible to visit them all. So if you want some top-rated parks, here are nine you should add to your bucket list.
Most of them are on the East Coast, which makes sense since it is the birthplace of our nation. You’ll find numerous national historical parks dedicated to preserving colonial and early American history on this side of the country.
1. Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts
Location: 250 North Great Road, Lincoln, MA 01773
About: Open from sunrise to sunset year-round, Minute Man National Historical Park “preserves and interprets the sites, structures, and landscapes that became the field of battle during the first armed conflict of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.”
This is where the “shot heard round the world” occurred. The British army had 73 soldiers killed and 174 wounded, while the Colonial army had 49 soldiers killed and 41 wounded. The 18 miles of battlefields line Battle Road.
Why Visit: If you’re interested in the Revolutionary War, don’t miss Minute Man National Historical Park. Walk the same footsteps as our forefathers as you hike Battle Road.
Join a park ranger at the historic Hartwell Tavern and watch a musket firing demonstration. Tour the eleven houses still standing along Battle Road and learn more about daily life during wartime.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 – For American history buffs, it doesn’t get much better than Massachusetts during the Colonial America era. The park offers daily programs.
And kids can pick up a Junior Ranger packet to help them learn more about the park’s history and earn their Junior Ranger badge.
2. Valley Forge National Historical Park, Pennsylvania
Location: 1400 North Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, PA 19406
About: The 3,500 acres of Valley Forge National Historical Park include “the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778.” It was here that Washington gathered his troops to spend the winter to rest and recoup.
The story of Valley Forge is one of perseverance and unity and how the Continental Army emerged stronger than before. They formed a disciplined fighting force against the British by spring.
Why Visit: A new museum exhibit just opened in February 2022 that details the struggle of families during the winter of 1777 and how they banded together to survive. After spending 30 to 45 minutes in the museum, take the 10-mile drive on the Encampment Tour to see the historic sites and monuments.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – There isn’t quite as much to do and see here as at Minute Man National Historical Park. But history buffs may not want to miss this one. To walk in the same footsteps as George Washington and see 12 buildings that were standing during the time of the encampment is remarkable.
3. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, Kentucky
Location: 2995 Lincoln Farm Road, Hodgenville, Kentucky 42748
About: The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park “is dedicated to preservation, commemoration, and interpretation of the resources associated with the birth and early years of our 16th President.” Life in Kentucky shaped his character and prepared him to lead the nation through Civil War.
The first Lincoln Memorial was built here between 1909 and 1911 and honored the sixteenth President’s legacy. The park also preserves the Sinking Spring referred to in numerous land records. The family probably depended on it for their daily water supply.
Why Visit: In the visitor center, you can view the Bible that belonged to President Lincoln’s parents. His speeches and documents contained many biblical references, and religion was very important to him.
The Memorial Building protects a symbolic cabin built where Abraham Lincoln was born. A trail leads you to Knob Creek, where you can also walk the same fields where a young Lincoln played during his childhood.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – You can visit two units at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park: the Birthplace Unit and the Boyhood Unit. The entire property is less than 200 acres, so it won’t take very long to visit. Although not large in land area, it’s still very significant to American history and worth the drive to Kentucky.
4. Colonial National Historical Park (Jamestown, Yorktown), Virginia
Location: 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, VA 23081
About: The Colonial Parkway of Colonial National Historical Park joins Historic Jamestowne in the east to Yorktown Battlefield in the west. This 23-mile scenic roadway has several overlooks and historical markers along the way.
The Jamestown settlement represents the clash of cultures and the beginnings of English relationships with the Native Americans in 1607. Since there isn’t much left to see of 18th Century Yorktown, you’ll have to imagine life during the Revolutionary War. Take one of the two self-guided driving tour routes to explore the battlefield areas.
Why Visit: Historic Jamestowne is also the site of current archeological discoveries. When you visit, you’ll probably watch archeologists at work. You can enter the museum to view all of the artifacts or walk the settlement grounds to see where buildings once stood.
The drive through Yorktown takes you to significant locations of the battles between Washington’s Continental Army and Cornwallis’ British Army. Had America lost the battle at Yorktown, history could have written a different story.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 – You can’t claim to be an American history fan and not visit the site of the first settlement of 1607. Not to mention, witnessing current archeological sites and viewing all of the artifacts discovered on the land is a surreal experience. Jamestown is probably the most visited and popular of the two locations.
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5. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, New York
Location: 180-182 South Street, Auburn, NY 13021
About: The Harriet Tubman Home, Inc., operates this new national historic site which remains in progress. It only has three buildings, but you can take a moment to realize the significance of this great woman’s bravery and sacrifice. It may give you chills to stand outside the home and view the gravesite of one of the leaders of the Underground Railroad.
Restoration efforts at the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park “have been underway and once completed, visitors will be able to view the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church building as it appeared in 1913 during Harriet Tubman’s funeral.”
Why Visit: Visit the Thompson A.M.E. Zion Church, where Tubman grew her faith over the years. This is also the place where her congregation celebrated her life after her death.
Discover the story of Frances Seward and how she risked imprisonment when she sold seven acres of her land to Tubman. You can also visit her gravesite at the Fort Hill Cemetery, a short distance from the church.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 – Because it’s still a park in progress, it’s hard to rank the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park above any other parks on this list.
But the historical significance of Harriet Tubman’s role and legacy is worth honoring. Don’t miss out on visiting this park because it might be smaller than the others.
6. Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania
Location: 599 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
About: This park has many historic houses and gardens. Independence National Historical Park is more than just the home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed.
The park “represents the founding ideals of the nation and preserves national and international symbols of freedom and democracy, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed inside Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
Regarding historical importance, there may be no place more significant to the founding of America than Independence National Historical Park.
Why Visit: There are many things to do and places to visit at Independence National Historical Park. Visit Independence Hall, Congress Hall, and Old City Hall. Or explore the Great Essentials exhibit and Philosophical Hall located at Independence Square. Additionally, you can visit the Liberty Bell Center to learn more about this famous symbol.
The Franklin Court sites include the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin Court Printing Office, and two different archeology exhibits. However, visiting Independence National Historical Park could take a few days if you want to explore everything.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 – Independence National Historical Park is similar to Washington, D.C., in that you can’t possibly see everything in one day. You’ll find so much history about how America began that this location should certainly be on your bucket list.
7. Lewis and Clark (Fort Clatsop), Oregon and Washington
Location: 92343 Fort Clatsop Road, Astoria, OR 97103
About: When President Thomas Jefferson commissioned William Clark and Meriwether Lewis to explore the land west of the Mississippi, he changed the course of American history. Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment.
Today a replica of this fort allows visitors to walk through rooms and participate in ranger-led programs to learn about the expedition. Visitors can also see the location of the salt works and the Middle Village & Station Camp that tells the Chinook Nation’s history.
Why Visit: At this national historical park, rangers dress in era-appropriate attire and lead programs to help visitors learn more about the Lewis and Clark expedition. This park also has beautiful scenery encompassing the Columbia River and Pacific Coast. If you love nature, you can hike, kayak, fish, view wildlife, and more at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 – This park preserves history, culture, habitats, and wildlife. If you’re not a history buff, you’ll still enjoy the beauty of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. And if you do love American history, it preserves one of the most significant explorations and our nation’s westward expansion.
Pro Tip: Looking for a place to park your RV while traveling through Oregon? Check out the 9 Best Oregon Coast RV Parks and Campgrounds You’ll Love.
8. Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, Hawaii
Location: Highway 160, Honaunau, HI 96726
About: Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a place of refuge. The park film tells how a Hawaiian warrior found safety and protection here by Lono, the god of life.
The Great Wall at the Royal Grounds, an area once reserved for Hawaiian royalty, measures 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide, and over 950 feet long. The park is a beautiful display of Hawaii’s past and present.
Why Visit: If you want to learn more about Hawaiian culture and history, put Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on your bucket list. This location is an important Hawaiian ceremonial site.
Through self-guided walking tours, visitors can see temples and other ancient structures. At Pu’uhonua, visitors can also see lava tide pools and a royal mausoleum.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 – We hope you make it across the Pacific Ocean to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. It captures ancient Hawaiian culture like nowhere else in the world. Remember, this land is sacred to the Hawaiian people, so make sure to obey posted rules to respect the land.
9. Natchez National Historical Park, Mississippi
Location: 640 South Canal Street, Natchez, MS 39120
About: Natchez National Historical Park “protects the sites and structures associated with the peoples of Natchez and its surrounding area from earliest inhabitants to the modern era.” The park has five properties: Forks of the Road, Fort Rosalie, Melrose, the William Johnson House, and the Natchez Visitor Center.
Forks of the Road was the second-largest slave market in the Deep South, while Melrose is one of the best-preserved estates in the South. This park tells the stories of the Native Americans, enslaved people, and white settlers and how these groups of people crossed paths here at the Mississippi River.
Why Visit: The self-guided driving tour starts at the Natchez Visitor Center and covers 30 different historical buildings, ending at Texada. It highlights important sites relevant to the Civil War. Enjoy a picnic at the Fort Rosalie site and the beauty and history of the area.
Visitors can also take a guided tour of Melrose to gain insights into the way of life of white Southerners and enslaved people who worked on the estate property. Finally, there are no words to describe the feeling of standing in the same place as enslaved people who just arrived off ships in chains to the slave market at Forks of the Road.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 – The convergence of cultures at Natchez National Historical Park is unique. And the eras of historical significance span hundreds of years, from European settlement to African enslavement to the American cotton economy and the Civil Rights Movement. It’s not just one time period preserved here but generations of history.
Is Visiting a National Historical Park Worth It?
Most people think about big national parks like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone when they make a bucket list. Those National Parks are beautiful, majestic, and awe-inspiring. But don’t forget about the other national park designations like the historical parks.
These places preserve American history and culture over the last 400 years. Nowhere else can you have hands-on experiences and learn about our nation’s history. Drive the lands where soldiers lost their lives defending our country’s freedom. Stand in the place where chained and enslaved people were bought and sold. Touch the ground of the first European settlement in Virginia.
You don’t have to like history to enjoy visiting these locations. In fact, these locations will help you appreciate history more than any textbook.
Need help planning your RV trip to America’s best national historical parks? We recommend RV Trip Wizard! Find out How to Use RV Trip Wizard to Plan an RV Road Trip.
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