It's hard to explain the feeling you get when you visit a national monument. Whether you are walking through an ancient natural wonder, visiting the site of a pivotal moment in history, or honoring the memory of someone significant, national monuments create a memorable experience for all their guests.
Some US national monuments are well-known around the country. Say “the Statue of Liberty,” and almost every American and non-American will know what you are talking about. But some lesser-known national monuments are worth exploring as well.
With around 130 national monuments in the US, most of which are relatively unknown, it’s easy to miss out on some great sites. We’ve compiled a list of the US national monuments you must see in your lifetime.
What is the difference between a national monument and a national park?
A national monument is an area reserved by the US government because it contains objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. The objects could be naturally formed, like The Devil’s Tower, or manufactured, like the Washington Monument.
A national park is recognized for its inspirational, educational, and recreational values.
In many cases, a national monument can be found inside a national park.
How many national monuments are in the US?
As of 2021, there are 130 national monuments in the US.
How is a national monument created?
The process is complicated, but simply put, there are two ways a plot of land can become a national monument.
Through Presidential Proclamation
Through legislation passed by the US Congress.
6 National Monuments You Need to Visit in the US
Location: Washington, D.C.
Best Time to Visit: Anytime!
In honor of the 16th president of the United States, the Lincoln Memorial symbolizes his belief in the freedom and dignity of all people. This symbol of unity and strength is known to inspire emotional responses from the thousands of people who walk its steps every year. The monument steps have hosted history-making moments. The most notable is Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.
This Henry Bacon masterpiece was modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Bacon felt it was only appropriate that the monument built in honor of the man who defended democracy should echo the birthplace of democracy. If you stand at the base of Lincoln's feet and stare across the reflection pool, you will have a straight line of sight to three other significant national monuments. You can see the Washington Monument, the National World War ll Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol. All of which are worth visiting as well.
Best Time to Visit: Summer
For avid climbers, Devil's Tower is a beacon of joy! This remarkable geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills is known for its unique "cracked" appearance. Those cracks are what draw climbers from all over the world.
Not only is it a famous rock climbing summit, but this geologic feature has long been considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people.
Location: in the Sierra Nevada, east-central California
Best Time to Visit: Summer is best, but it’s open year-round
Nothing makes you feel as small or insignificant as standing next to a 3000-year-old sequoia tree. As one of the largest organisms on earth, it’s hard to imagine that these towering trees sprout from a less than half-an-inch-long seed.
In April 2000, President Bill Clinton designated select sequoia groves in east-central California as National Monuments. The monument is now made up of 33 giant sequoia groves scattered throughout the region. Each grove protects these astonishing natural wonders and makes them available for the public to explore.
Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall tend to have the best weather
Take a step back in time and marvel at the ingenuity and craftsmanship of these Native American ancestors. In 1906, Montezuma Castle was declared a national monument. At over a million acres, it was the third national monument dedicated to preserving and honoring Native American culture and history.
This national monument protects a set of well-preserved dwellings inside Camp Verde, Arizona, built by the Sinagua people. Sinagua was a pre-Columbian culture closely related to the Hohokam and other indigenous people in the southwestern United States. What’s remarkable is that their 20-room high-rise dwellings were nestled into a limestone cliff. Visitors can explore the architectural marvel and discover various artifacts from the Sinagua people.
Location: Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii
Best Time to Visit: Anytime
Originally named the WWll Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorates one of the most pivotal moments in US history. The attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, led to 2,390 lives lost and resulted in the US finally entering WWll.
Location: Liberty Island, New York City
Best Time to Visit: Anytime
The Statue of Liberty is one of the US's most well-known and photographed national monuments. It stands just off the banks of New York City and acts as a beacon of hope. It is widely seen as an international symbol of democracy and freedom and is often associated with “the American dream.”
Originally a gift from France, it acted as an olive branch of peace between the two nations in the 1880s. It became associated with “the American dream” after millions of immigrants from around the world passed through nearby Ellis Island to enter the US between 1892 and 1952. Lady Liberty holds up her torch, acting as a lighthouse for travelers looking for a better life.
A few more noteworthy US national monuments to check out:
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Birmingham, Alabama
Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska
Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico
The Washington Monument in Washington, D.C
Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota
Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico
Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah
When planning your next trip:
Add "visiting a national monument" to your itinerary. Each monument provides a unique look into the past and creates a unique experience for all who visit. No matter which of these incredible national monuments you choose to visit, you are bound to have a memorable experience.
Let us know which of these national monuments you hope to visit or if there are any you think should be added to our list in the future!