8 Must-Visit US National Memorials

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8 Must-Visit US National Memorials

The United States has a large and diverse collection of national parks—59 of them, in fact—all operated by the National Park Service. But did you know that the National Park Service oversees more than 300 other sites, as well? These monuments, battlefields, historic sites, and memorials can be just as beautiful and historically significant as the national parks, but they are often overlooked on the grand tour of U.S. must-see sites. In honor of Memorial Day (coming up on Monday, May 29), here are eight U.S. national memorials you shouldn’t miss.


By Amanda Williams

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    1. Wright Brothers National Memorial
    Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

    Wilbur and Orville Wright were responsible for the first manned and powered airplane flight, which took place on December 17, 1903, in Kill Devil Hills. Their accomplishment—along with the years of research and experimentation that preceded it—is commemorated by the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which consists of a 60-foot-tall memorial atop Kill Devil Hill and a small museum and visitor center. In between the memorial and the visitor center, you can actually walk in the “footsteps” of the brothers’ very first flights by following small stone monuments in the grass that mark the beginning and end of each one. (The brothers flew four times, all on the same day, before their plane was damaged.) You’ll be surprised at how short the flights were—the first one traveled less than 150 feet! (Entrance fee: $7)

    Photo by Amanda Williams
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    2. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
    Put-in-Bay, Ohio

    Did you know that there was a naval battle on one of the Great Lakes during the War of 1812? The Battle of Lake Erie—in which Commodore Oliver Perry led a fleet of U.S. Navy ships to victory against the British Royal Navy—was one of that war's most significant naval battles. Today, the 352-foot tall Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial stands on South Bass Island to honor those who fought during that battle and to recognize the peace that now exists among the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. If you visit, be sure to take the elevator to the top of the memorial column, where you can look out over Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie, and the longest undefended border in the world. (Entrance fee: Free to enter the visitor center; $5 to visit the top of the memorial column)

    Photo by Amanda Williams
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    3. Oklahoma City National Memorial
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

    The Oklahoma City National Memorial was built on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was bombed on April 19, 1995. The memorial consists of a reflecting pool and a field of 168 empty chairs representing the 168 victims of the bombing. Be sure to allow enough time to visit the adjacent museum, which walks visitors through the hours leading up to, and the weeks following, the bombing. It’s a very moving experience and gives visitors a unique look into one of the few large-scale acts of domestic terrorism that has ever happened in the United States. (Entrance fee: Free to visit the memorial, $15 to visit the museum)

    Photo by Amanda Williams
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    4. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
    St. Louis, Missouri

    The most famous feature of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial—a 91-acre park along the Mississippi River—is the 630-foot Gateway Arch, which has become the symbol of St. Louis. The memorial commemorates several things, including St. Louis’s (and Jefferson’s) role in the westward expansion of the United States and the debate over slavery that was raised by the Dred Scott case in 1857. (In case your history is rusty, Scott was sold in St. Louis before his new master moved to free territories.) If you visit, be sure to ride a pod up to the top of the Arch. Not only is the experience interesting (those pods are tiny!), but the views of St. Louis and the Mississippi from the top can’t be beat. (Entrance fee: $13 to go to the top of the Gateway Arch)

    Photo by Rian Castillo/Flickr
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    5. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
    Washington, D.C.

    The National Mall in Washington, D.C. is the site of many memorials to the casualties of wars and military confrontations. One of the most striking is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a glossy black granite wall covered in the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died during the Vietnam War. It’s not uncommon to find flowers, photographs, or notes left in remembrance at this poignant spot. (Entrance fee: Free)

    Photo by Amanda Williams
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    6. National World War II Memorial
    Washington, D.C.

    Any visit to the National Mall should include a nighttime viewing of the WWII Memorial. The memorial features 56 pillars and a pair of arches that surround a fountain at the center of a large plaza. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of a U.S. state or territory that existed in 1945, and during the day you’ll likely find groups of visitors taking photos next to their state’s pillar. But after dark, the whole monument is beautifully illuminated. (Entrance fee: Free)

    Photo by Tomasland/Flickr 
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    7. Lincoln Memorial
    Washington, D.C.

    Wandering through the National Mall, you’ll also find the Lincoln Memorial, which is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president. The Lincoln Memorial stands at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Washington Monument and is instantly recognizable by its resemblance to a Greek temple. Walk up the steps to view the 60-foot-tall statue of Lincoln inside, but also take the time to walk to the back of the memorial, where you’ll get an alternative view over the nation’s capital. (Entrance fee: Free)

    Photo by Amanda Williams
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    8. Mount Rushmore
    Keystone, South Dakota

    One of the most iconic sights in the United States, Mount Rushmore is a series of sculptures carved into a granite batholith formation in South Dakota’s Black Hills. In 1927, Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, began carving the memorial to recognize four former presidents of the United States. The iconic 60-foot-tall carvings were completed 14 years later and depict George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Many people visit Mount Rushmore while also exploring South Dakota, the nearby Black Hills, and Badlands National Park. (Entrance fee: Free)

    Photo by sunchild123/Flickr
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    WHAT'S NEXT . . .
    Photo courtesy of the National Park Service