The reasons we love the outdoors are many and varied. For some it may simply be a matter of recreation and exercise. Others enjoy nature and chance encounters with wildlife. Some enjoy relaxing around the campsite, while others challenge themselves on more difficult trails. Many experience healing and reinvigoration by spending time in nature. Many of us want nothing more than to share with our children our love of the outdoors and pass something on to the next generation. We know that there’s much to learn about and from nature. But what may not so quickly come to mind is the chance to learn history from some of these outdoor adventures. It’s not just something to be read about in books or found in great cities full of old buildings. Hike it Baby members experience history in a much more compelling way in the great outdoors. Here we present five terrific places with miles of trails that can also teach us something of history in addition to the usual benefits we seek in nature.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
How fitting it is to start our tour with Yellowstone National Park. By the late 19th century, the vast North American continent was quickly seeming less so as it became settled. Species whose numbers had once seemed inexhaustible were disappearing. It was slow in coming, but thankfully some far-sighted individuals began to recognize that the natural gifts we had been given could disappear without good stewardship. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act that created the world’s first national park. Thus, the wonders of Yellowstone were protected for future generations.
There is much, MUCH more to the fascinating history of this natural gem. Why not learn for yourself along with the kids? Here’s a great itinerary for exploring Yellowstone with kids. There are several visitor stations, museums and information stations around the park. Rangers are full of helpful information and interesting stories as well. Learning a little history of the park can only enhance your family’s enjoyment of the natural wonders that attract millions of visitors. When you’re ready, Hike it Baby members recommend taking Observation Point Trail to Observation Peak. Once there, you’ll be treated to an incredible vista of the Upper Geyser Basin, including Old Faithful.
Mt. Rushmore National Monument, South Dakota
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial can be found in Black Hills National Forest. It was the brainchild of a South Dakota state historian named Doane Robinson who wished to put his state on the map. For this, he engaged sculptor Gutzon Borglum in a project to create monumental carvings in the Black Hills. It was Borglum who chose Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt for their historical importance and perceived broad appeal. Securing funding was the biggest obstacle to overcome in the beginning, and many politicians and other VIPs were involved in support and fundraising. Perhaps the most important persons involved were the 400 or so workers who toiled from 1927 to 1941 to complete the heads of the four presidents. There is more to the story, of course, and it can all be found at the visitor center in the form of talks by rangers, museum exhibits, films and books.
Just as there’s more to Mt. Rushmore than huge faces carved into a mountain, there’s more to Black Hills National Forest than Mt. Rushmore. Outdoors enthusiasts, kids included, will find plenty to captivate, entertain or challenge them. If you can do it outdoors, you can do it here: camping, climbing, hiking, cycling, picnicking, wildlife viewing and on and on. For a perfectly good family-friendly hike, Hike it Baby members recommend Iron Creek Trail in the northern part of Black Hills National Forest near the town of Spearfish. Amazing views of rock formations along the creek will bring hikers to Iron Creek Lake, which is perfect for picnicking and relaxing.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
There are places that are considered hallowed ground, usually where people died for the values their society holds most dear. In the U.S., Gettysburg National Military Park is one such place. Surely there can be few, if any, places better to learn history, for young and old alike, than the battlefield of one of the most consequential Civil War battles. Most of those took place in the South, but General Robert E. Lee attempted a bold stroke in taking the war to the North. His Confederate Army was checked in a bloody slog from July 1 to 3, 1863, at the town of Gettysburg. Why did the armies meet there? What happened at Little Round Top? What was Pickett’s Charge? And what took place after the battle? Find answers at the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War, which offers exhibits, a short film and much more.
Upon leaving the museum, visitors can do what is seldom possible – actually experience the subject of the museum by walking the battlefield. The 2 miles of Battlefield Trails near Devil’s Den come recommended by Hike it Baby members. There are great views of the places where men fought and died, as well as several monuments, memorials and information plaques where families can now rest and enjoy the peace those men could only dream of. Devil’s Den, with its large boulders strewn about the area, is a perfect playground for kids. How appropriate it is that the awful sounds of battle are replaced these many decades later by the delightful sounds of children at play.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
The history of Garden of the Gods is intimately tied to that of the American West. It got its name in 1859 when surveyors arrived in the area to lay out a townsite for settlement. Struck by the beauty of the sandstone formations scattered around the place, one of them gave it its name, which stuck. A little over a decade later and just a few years after the transcontinental railroad had been completed, railroads were crisscrossing the West. Railroad tycoon Charles Elliot Perkins initially purchased 240 acres in 1879, eventually expanding to 480 acres. However, he never built on the land, preferring to keep it in its natural state and allowing the public to enjoy it. Perkins died in 1907, but his children respected his wishes and bequeathed the land to Colorado Springs as a public park.
Over a century later, we can all now marvel at the sandstone structures of Garden of the Gods. We should also feel gratitude for the farsightedness and generosity of those who saw fit to preserve what is now a registered National Natural Landmark. The best way to take it in? Hiking, of course! There are 15 miles of trails of varying levels. One popular trail is the Siamese Twins Trail, an easy 1-mile loop around the famous Siamese Twins rock formation, which offers incredible views of the surrounding natural wonders and even Pikes Peak. The best time to visit Garden of the Gods is at sunset when the rocks turn a deep reddish-orange.
For those considering a trip to Colorado Springs, check out this itinerary of 15 fun things to do with kids in Colorado Springs, which includes, yes, Garden of the Gods. The kids will love this outstanding public park. And parents will love knowing that the kids may one day return with kids of their own, and little will have changed.
Mt. St. Helens, Washington
May 18, 1980, may have started off as a peaceful Sunday morning, but it wouldn’t last long in the area of Mt. St. Helens, a once-dormant volcano. In fact, there had been seismic activity for weeks. Scientists knew that something was happening. And boy, did it! The eruption began with an earthquake that caused a landslide of the north side of the volcano. What followed was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history. Rock and magma overtook the landslide and laid waste to hundreds of square miles. An ash column was thrust 15 miles into the air, and ash fell across the western U.S. and Canada. In the aftermath of the eruption, 110,000 acres were set aside as Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to preserve the vast area of flattened forest and land buried under lava flows and ash. Now researchers and members of the public alike can see how nature responds to such a catastrophic event.
Opportunities to enjoy the outdoors abound in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where Mt. St. Helens is found. Just south of the volcano and within the borders of the monument is Ape Cave, a popular hiking destination, as recommended by Hike it Baby members. The cave is a lava tube, the third-longest in North America, at 13,000 feet. Upper Cave is more rugged than Lower Cave, but both were born in the distant past of the same kind of volcanic activity that struck so violently in 1980. No need to worry though; the last eruption of Mt. St. Helens was in 2008, and the volcano is quiet … for now.
What historical parks or trails are your favorite? Please share with us in the comments below!
To find more local trails to you or trails in or near vacation spots, visit the Hike it Baby Family Trail Guide. It’s a great resource for anyone looking for kid-friendly trails around the U.S.
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