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Trying to hit all of the U.S. national parks is already a holy grail achievement for many American travelers. But add the 130+ national monuments scattered around the country, and you’ve got a serious challenge. The 1906 Antiquities Act defines these federally-protected places as “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” that the president may designate without an act of Congress.
President Theodore Roosevelt declared the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, the same year as that law, and the list has exploded in the decades since.
Many national monuments have graduated into national park status. In contrast, others remain administered by one of 9 agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and others.
National monuments can be entire remote islands, old buildings or statues, ancient ruins, beautiful landscapes, or even massive swathes of the ocean that are near-impossible to access – like Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, composed of more than 500,000 square miles of water and desert atolls northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. Therefore, visiting some of these places is no easy task!
However, most of them are simpler to reach, and many can be easily added to a trip to a nearby city or national park. Below, we’ll look at some of the best national monuments to visit and a few top tips for each.
- Best National Monuments in the United States to Visit
- 1. Statue of Liberty National Monument
- 2. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
- 3. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
- 4. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument
- 5. George Washington Birthplace National Monument
- 6. Devils Tower National Monument
- 7. Giant Sequoia National Monument
- 8. Pipestone National Monument
- 9. Governors Island National Monument
- 10. Muir Woods National Monument
- 11. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
- 12. Admiralty Island National Monument
- 13. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
- 14. Natural Bridges National Monument
- 15. Bears Ears National Monument
- 16. Stonewall National Monument
- 17. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- 18. Montezuma Castle National Monument
- 19. Walnut Canyon National Monument
- 20. Cedar Breaks National Monument
- 21. Mojave Trails National Monument
- 22. Sand to Snow National Monument
- 23. Colorado National Monument
- 24. Carrizo Plain National Monument
- 25. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
- 26. Prehistoric Trackways National Monument
- 27. Dinosaur National Monument
- 28. Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument
- 29. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
- 30. Waco Mammoth National Monument
- 31. Misty Fjords National Monument
- 32. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
- 33. Jewel Cave National Monument
- 34. Buck Island Reef National Monument
- 35. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument
- List of National Monuments in the United States
- How many national monuments are there?
- What state has the most national monuments?
- Why are national monuments important?
- What was the first national monument?
Best National Monuments in the United States to Visit
1. Statue of Liberty National Monument
Let’s start with one of America’s most recognizable icons, also a national monument – The Statue of Liberty, a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The statue, gifted to the U.S. from France, where it was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, is of a robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She holds a torch and a tabula ansata, or a tablet that evokes the law.
As the monument is on an island, you’ll need to catch one of the many quick ferries running from New York City or New Jersey to it. Tickets, along with add-ons to go up to the Pedestal and Crown areas, are available on the National Park Service’s site.
Visitors who want a more in-depth experience can opt for a guided tour with admission included, while those who just want to see the Statue of Liberty against the New York skyline can do a short cruise around it.
Don’t forget that ferries to the Statue of Liberty National Monument also go to nearby Ellis Island, which is included at no extra charge and can be a fascinating addition to your day. Stay somewhere with a view of Lady Liberty for an extra-special night in New York, like the New York Marriott Downtown.
2. Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument is in northwest Arizona and is connected to part of Grand Canyon National Park. Counting over 1 million acres of canyons, deserts, and wilderness, the area is larger than the state of Rhode Island – but contains no paved roads.
Therefore, 4×4, backcountry hikes, or horseback will access this vast national monument. Those willing to undertake such a challenge are in for endless views of everything from the Mojave desert, ponderosa pine forests, and stunning geological formations. It is essential to bring an appropriate amount of water and supplies.
To access the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, starting in St. George, Utah, the Interagency Information Center can give you a map and some tips.
This quaint but fair-sized city has plenty of accommodation, like the Red Mountain Resort. From there, it’s a 30-mile drive southwest across the border, where BLM roads will take you to the monument. This is a great visit along with Grand Canyon National Park.
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3. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Speaking of Southern Utah, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is not to miss. This massive, 1.8 million-acre preserve is some of the most remote lands in the country, having been the last place in the contiguous states to be mapped.
The monument protects three main geological landscapes: the Grand Staircase, which is a massive set of rock layers that rise in height; the Kaiparowits Plateau, a nearly 50-mile long and 4,000-foot high plateau; and the Canyons of the Escalante, which are landforms carved out by the river of that name.
The result is a huge expanse of hoodoos, slot canyons, domes, natural arches, bridges, and more of the features this part of the country is renowned for.
Because of the sheer size and volume of things to see at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, many visitors like to do a guided hike and off-road tour; it is also possible to self-drive it. You can stay in the village of Escalante, where you won’t find five-star resorts, but a few nice places to go glamping or rent a cabin.
4. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument is located in southwestern Maryland and commemorates the life of Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist who helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom.
While President Obama designated this site a national monument in 2013, it was expanded just a few years later by combining it with the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge; the entire site is now known as the Harriet Tubman Underground National Historical Park.
Tubman was born and raised in slavery just down the road from the park, and the site of her childhood home is a popular stop when visiting. The park features a visitor center with fascinating exhibits on Tubman’s life and the Underground Railroad, on which she was one of the most prominent conductors to bring slaves to safety, as well as hiking trails and a picnic area.
This monument is in a rather rural part of Maryland. Still, it’s easily drivable from larger destinations like Ocean City or Washington, DC, and the fascinating experience is definitely worth it. There are some amazing resorts on the shore, like the Princess Royale Oceanfront Resort, to retreat back to at the end of the day.
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5. George Washington Birthplace National Monument
As its name suggests, this national monument is where America’s first president was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. The former colonel would become the first U.S. president and is arguably the most important founding father of the United States.
Washington’s father, Augustine Washington, was a successful tobacco plantation owner, and George Washington inherited his wealth, 64 slaves, and this Potomac River-front land after his father’s death. Seven generations of the family lived on the 551-acre estate. It’s now home to the Washington Family Burial Ground and the Memorial House, a charming brick house constructed in 1931.
The monument is just over 90 minutes south of Washington DC, making it an easy addition to a trip to the capital, where an endless amount of national history can be toured. Make it extra Washingtonian by staying at Hotel Washington!
6. Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower was the first U.S. national monument, which President Theodore Roosevelt declared as such in 1906. It’s located in Crook County, Wyoming, close to the state’s northeastern corner and the neighboring states of Montana and South Dakota.
The tower is an igneous rock butte that rises 1,267 feet (386 m) from its base to 5,112 feet (1,559 m) above sea level. The tower is 857 feet (261 m) wide at its base. It’s a massive natural column that rises from relatively flat land around the Belle Fourche River, which makes it unique and beautiful.
Climbing Devils Tower is an option, but only if rock climbing is something you’re experienced with – most visitors enjoy the view and hike around the protected area below.
Since this is a pretty remote part of Wyoming, it’s often visited from nearby Rapid City, South Dakota, along with the Black Hills, Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and other South Dakota national monuments. Guided tours of Devils Tower with transportation are available from the city.
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7. Giant Sequoia National Monument
This one can get confusing – Giant Sequoia National Monument encompasses almost all of the giant sequoia groves in Sequoia National Forest, beside Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. These forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Southern California are beautiful places to be, despite their confusing names and boundaries.
Giant sequoias are the most massive trees on Earth. This part of California is home to hundreds of them, and that’s exactly what these national parks, forests, and monuments aim to protect. Visitors can take scenic drives and hikes to trees nearly 300 feet tall and 30 feet wide – there’s even a fallen one with a car tunnel through it.
In the winter, snowshoeing through the winter wonderland of massive, snow-covered trees is a one-of-a-kind experience, so don’t count this place out in the cold season. Most visitors rent a cabin in this part of California, as there aren’t major cities or large hotels nearby.
8. Pipestone National Monument
Pipestone National Monument is located in southwestern Minnesota, near the city of the same name. The monument was established in 1937 to protect quarries for pipestone, or catlinite, which Native Americans from the plains regions have used for centuries to make ceremonial pipes.
The history behind the practice is fascinating, and the quarries were considered to be sacred by local tribes – so much so that they were deemed as neutral ground not to be battled over. It is believed that the site of Pipestone National Monument was in use for thousands of years, with pipes from it found in millennia-old graves.
Visitors can explore many acres of rock, streams, waterfalls, small lakes, and grass plains in the monument today. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Minneapolis but under an hour from Sioux Falls. However, it’s also a great stop on a Midwest road trip – the main local accommodation is the OYO Hotel Pipestone.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the U.S.
9. Governors Island National Monument
But wait, there’s another national monument in the Hudson off Manhattan, and it’s just a few hundred yards from the Statue of Liberty – 172-acre Governors Island. The U.S. Army and Coast Guard used the island for nearly 200 years, from 1794 to 1966, and provided spectacular views of America’s most famous skyline.
The national monument is in the northern part of the island. It offers several historic buildings, including Fort Jay and Castle Williams, which long protected New York from potential attackers. There are bicycle and walking paths, scenic viewpoints, and even the relaxing Q.C. NY Luxury Wellness Spa on the island.
You must take an inexpensive and frequent ferry to Governors Island National Monument from Brooklyn or Manhattan. In the spring, summer, and fall, visitors who want to see the New York City skyline at night from this unique spot can go glamping at the Collective Governors Island, the only accommodation on the island.
10. Muir Woods National Monument
Visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area won’t need to venture too far into the rest of California to see the state’s famous giant trees, as they are largely what the Muir Woods National Monument protects.
These 500+ acres are on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from the city around Mount Tamalpais, where the mountainous landscape approaches the Pacific Ocean.
About half of the acreage is made up of redwood groves, another species of sequoia, but different in that they grow in more coastal climates than alpine. This area’s unique temperature and consistent fog create the ideal conditions for these massive trees to grow. Vehicles are not allowed into the national monument, so access is via a variety of trails ranging in difficulty from easy to difficult.
Guided tours of Muir Woods from San Francisco are frequent and often include stops in Sausalito, a nearby town popular for its picturesque waterfront and many shops and cafés. The town can also be a less busy, more relaxing alternative to stay in – like at Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa. Turn this into a visit along with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
See Related: Best Washington D.C. Walking Tours
11. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is one of the most visited in the United States and one of the most unique as well. It’s pronounced “de-SHAY,” and the spelling is a Spanish interpretation of the Navajo word for canyon, pronounced like that. This is the only national monument in the country that’s not on federally owned land and instead belongs to the Navajo Nation.
These canyons, on the Colorado Plateau in northeastern Arizona, are the longest continuously inhabited place in the region, with populations living in the canyons for nearly 5,000 years. The scenery is spectacular, with tall cliffs cut by water throughout history; residents have used the floors below for housing, farming, hunting, and sustenance, and a handful of families continue to do so today.
Because of this, access to the canyon floors is limited – select tours with Navajo guides can take visitors through them, but most will admire everything above from the several North and South Rim lookouts.
Spider Rock, an 800-foot-tall spire towering from the canyon floor, is a favorite for photography. While you might think hotel options are limited out here, there’s both a Holiday Inn and a Best Western in nearby Chinle.
12. Admiralty Island National Monument
Alaska’s Admiralty Island is one of a kind. This region has an outstanding example of a North Pacific temperate rainforest and features a ton of wildlife, especially brown bears, along with pristine wilderness nearly untouched by humans. The massive island, most of which the national monument occupies, is just south of the city of Juneau.
It’s from there that visits to Admiralty Island usually start, where adventurers get on a floatplane, boat, or kayak to reach the island. In July and August, when the weather is good and salmon are spawning, hundreds of brown bears can be viewed at Pack Creek. The island is home to the largest concentration of species on the continent.
Other wildlife that can be viewed include bald eagles, humpback whales, and seals. It’s popular to see it all from a watercraft, but you can also hike and camp on the island; there are no roads or vehicles, so be prepared. Otherwise, you’ll want to rent a house in Juneau.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Alaska
13. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine has a long and important history. This pentagonal fortress at the entrance to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor successfully repulsed the British from taking control of the city during the War of 1812, and it’s where the Star Spangled Banner was written after the large flag above it survived the battle.
Its construction began in the late 1700s, with five points for weapons launches and a dry moat for infantry defenses. This proved effective when the British could not enter the Inner Harbor and turned their shop around in 1812. During the Civil War, it was a military prison holding Confederates; World War I saw it turned into an Army hospital, while World War II put it under Coast Guard command.
The fortress is almost exactly as it was during the 1812 Battle of Baltimore, and visitors can explore all its historical glory today. If you don’t have time to stop by, look out for it on an Inner Harbor sightseeing cruise. If you won’t have a car, The Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Baltimore is on a bus line that will drop you less than a mile from the monument.
14. Natural Bridges National Monument
Among the many natural treasures in Southern Utah is Natural Bridges National Monument, south of Canyonlands National Park and east of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Thus, it could be a great addition to a regional road trip; it’s also near the famous Four Corners boundary.
As its name suggests, this preserve is famous for its natural bridges – rock formations with openings underneath that make them look like bridges.
This phenomenon occurs when water, specifically flash floods, erodes at rock over a long time, eventually breaking through and creating a bridge above. This national monument has three: Kachina, Owachomo, and the largest, Sipapu.
All bridges can be viewed from Bridge View Drive, which loops around the preserve. There are also hikes to reach their bases. This is a pretty remote part of Utah, far from major (or even semi-large) towns, so you’ll probably want to rent a cottage in the small towns nearby.
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15. Bears Ears National Monument
If you’ve come to Natural Bridges, don’t miss the chance to see Bears Ears National Monument just to its northeast! This relatively new national monument has sadly been somewhat of a political football since its establishment, shrinking and re-growing in size with the change of the presidency.
The Bears Ears are a pair of buttes that rise 2,000 feet above the surrounding desert and look like a pair of bears’ ears rising from the horizon. There are three main sections around them for viewing and recreating. Indian Creek is great for climbing, viewing wildlife, camping, Cedar Mesa is full of native cultural significance and beautiful canyons, and San Juan River is a place for watersports and catching views via floating.
Again, accommodations in this region are limited. Camping is a great idea, though, and the lack of light makes this part of Utah one of the best places in the world to admire the night sky.
16. Stonewall National Monument
At 7.7 acres, you might think it’s rather tiny, but that’s a lot of space in Manhattan! It encompasses Christopher Park, part of Christopher Street, and the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that has a long history. It was in this spot in 1969 that the Stonewall riots occurred, which largely began the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the U.S. after police raided the inn.
Today, the entire site of the events is dedicated to those Americans’ fight for equality. Statues, plaques, and descriptions of history can be found around the monument, and it’s often adorned with rainbow flags and decor. If being near the Stonewall National Monument is important to you, one of the closest hotels to it is the Washington Square Hotel, just two blocks away.
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17. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
The history held at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument goes further back. Specific geological features make it possible for this landscape near Colorado Springs to hold the stories of the Eocene Period, which was approximately 34 million years ago.
This area, in the small town of Florissant, was once a lake. Just a few miles away was a very volcanically active area, known as Thirtynine Mile volcanic field, that had major eruptions, sending ash into the lake. This ash created algae and other compounds that sunk along with plants and animals and happened to preserve their fossils magnificently for us to find all these years later.
One of the main finds has been petrified redwood tree stumps, as they once dominated the area, and hiking around the preserve reveals fascinating million-year-old giants.
Plant fossils are the other best-preserved examples, although a number of animal invertebrates and vertebrates have been found as well. Most visitors make the 45-minute drive in from Colorado Springs to come and learn all about this amazing science, but you can also rent a cabin in peaceful Florissant if cities aren’t your thing.
18. Montezuma Castle National Monument
Who says you have to travel to Europe to see centuries-old castles? It’s a little-known fact that Arizona has its own at Montezuma Castle National Monument, and it’s quite different from what you’ll find on the other side of the pond. Plus, you only have to travel to Phoenix or Flagstaff to see it!
This “castle” was not home to royalty. Both parts of its name are misleading – European-American explorers found it abandoned in the 1800s and mistakenly linked it to the Aztecs and their famous emperor.
However, the site, carved into the side of a cliff, was built by the Sinagua indigenous people in the 1100s; it functioned more like a village or a prehistoric apartment building, home to many people, rather than a castle.
That makes it pretty fascinating, and you won’t believe the attention to detail and preciseness of this civilization carved into a cliffside. A short hike leads to a view of it and a visitor center that hosts displays of tools and other artifacts, but access to the interior of the ruins is not allowed to preserve it.
Private and group tours from Phoenix commonly include places like Sedona and Jerome along with Montezuma Castle National Monument.
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19. Walnut Canyon National Monument
Montezuma Castle is not the only Sinagua civilization ruins in Arizona. Visitors still curious about these fascinating, centuries-old dwellings can get even closer to them at Walnut Canyon National Monument, located just outside Flagstaff.
There are hundreds of cliff-carved dwellings in the walls of Walnut Canyon, many of which you can go right up and into. The Island Trail is a mile-long route into the heart of the canyon to access them, while the Rim Trail stays above and provides expensive across the many ruins and beautiful rock formations.
Wildlife like coyotes, mule deer, and rabbits are often visible, as it’s the water that creates a thriving ecosystem in the canyon – it’s also what made life possible for the Sinagua people.
If this fascinates you, it’s also possible to do a cultural tour in Hopi country from Flagstaff to learn about the Native American communities in the region today. The Little America Hotel Flagstaff is a popular place to stay and can accommodate families that want to stay together.
20. Cedar Breaks National Monument
The “crown” of the Grand Staircase in Utah is Cedar Breaks National Monument, sitting 10,000 feet in the air with a half-mile drop to the natural amphitheater floor below. This scenic spot is at the western end of the Colorado Plateau, near Cedar City, and easily added to a Zion and Bryce Canyon trip.
The natural amphitheater is the show here, stretching three miles across and dropping over 2,000 feet from its rim. Visitors view it from the top from May to October when snow doesn’t make it inaccessible.
Miles and miles of eroded cliffs, hoodoos, and other rock formations, much like those found in Bryce Canyon and Zion, can be appreciated from its viewpoints or along a handful of hikes.
As mentioned, it’s easy to stop here on a drive between Springdale and Bryce – the drive is under 90 minutes to and from each of them. But if you plan to spend more time, a night in quaint Cedar City is a good idea, where there’s a lovely Courtyard by Marriott.
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21. Mojave Trails National Monument
The largest national monument in the contiguous United States is Mojave Trails National Monument, located in the desert of Southern California. It partially surrounds the Mojave National Preserve and protects much of the scenery that made this part of Route 66 famous.
A number of natural features make the area notable. The Cadiz Dunes are massive, orange-pink sand dunes that will have you thinking a camel is about to stroll by. Amboy Crater is another famous sight, as this dormant volcano dramatically rises from the flat surroundings and was once a symbol of Route 66 in the region.
By definition, the Mojave Desert is a remote place, so don’t expect too much of hotels or rentals nearby. This is, however, a feasible route to take on a drive between Southern California and Las Vegas or Arizona. It’s also not far from the also-beautiful Joshua Tree National Park.
22. Sand to Snow National Monument
A bit further down Route 66 is Sand to Snow National Monument, which borders Joshua Tree and attracts hikers. The monument surrounds the San Gorgonio Mountain, which at over 11,500 feet, is the highest point in California south of the Sierra Nevada.
And while that alpine peak is often snow-capped, the terrain drops over 10,000 feet dramatically to the Coachella Valley desert landscape below – leading to the “sand to snow” name, similar to the popular Cactus to Clouds hike. These 154,000 acres are largely untouched, and the dramatic elevation differences mean a whole host of environments and biodiversity within.
Visitors can take on some or all of the Pacific Crest Trail, hike the canyons of the Whitewater River, camp in the backcountry of the San Bernardino Mountains, and do much more.
Access to Sand to Snow National Monument is mostly from its west, towards San Bernardino. Combine this with a stay in Big Bear, the all-season destination of Southern California, for a really great trip – it should be easy to find a mountain cabin to rent there.
See Related: Best Hotels & Rentals in La Jolla, California
23. Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is another of America’s most popular to visit. It consists of 20,000 acres near the city of Grand Junction, not far from Colorado’s border with Utah. That makes for an ideal stop on a western road trip.
The monument centers around Monument Canyon and its sheer-wall twists and turns that cut into the Colorado Plateau. The main attraction is Rim Rock Drive, which loops around it.
A drive along this route reveals hikes and views of famous rock formations like the Kissing Couple, Independence Monument, and Coke Ovens, as well as wildlife like bighorn sheep and eagles.
This is an awesome place to hike into canyons, which is doable for visitors of any skill level. Consider visiting the Grand Mesa area to the east before departing the area as well for some similar mountainous adventures.
24. Carrizo Plain National Monument
While Southern California is covered with big cities and bright lights nowadays, its Central Valley was a serene grassland full of wildflowers and animals just a few hundred years ago. Carrizo Plain National Monument covers some of the last 250,000 acres that still take that form in San Luis Obispo County.
The plain is a peaceful place of silence, vibrant wildlife, plant ecosystems, and geological features. The famous San Andreas Fault runs alongside it, and its frequent shifts always redirect streams’ flow. But water isn’t abundant here, as evident when visiting Soda Lake, one of the monument’s central features. The “lake” is usually dry, with mineral deposits resembling baking soda on the ground.
However, when conditions are just right, super blooms light up the plain with colorful wildflowers everywhere. It’s not easy to plan a visit around something unpredictable, but the plains, mountains, lake beds, and famous Painted Rock are beautiful to see anytime. This can be a great day trip from the Morro Bay area, where nice little hotels line the beach, such as 456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites.
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25. Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
New Mexico isn’t always on many travelers’ to-do lists, but it should be. It’s packed full of breathtaking scenery, such as the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, surrounding the town of Las Cruces in the south.
The monument protects four main areas: the Organ Mountains, Desert Peaks, Potrillo Mountains, and Doña Ana Mountains. These are all notable for rising dramatically from the flat Chihuahuan Desert floor that otherwise dominates the landscape. Rocky spires, lava flows, craters, ponderosa pine forests, and other unique scenes can be found among the heights of the peaks.
Visitors can hike, camp, ride on horseback, bike, and photograph the beauty of these desert mountains in a place that few visitors venture to. Las Cruces has a number of well-known hotel brands, like a Hilton Garden Inn and a Best Western, while the larger city of El Paso is under an hour away.
26. Prehistoric Trackways National Monument
Las Cruces’ other national monument should not be missed, either. Prehistoric Trackways National Monument is just on the northern outskirts of the city, making it easily accessible, and contains signs of life in New Mexico from long, long ago.
As its name suggests, this national monument has prehistoric footsteps fossilized into the rocky landscape that dominates the area. Prehistoric, in this case, means around 280 million years old – yes, that pre-dates the dinosaurs! Ancient reptiles, amphibians, insects, and sea creatures left footprints throughout the monument’s 5,000+ acres. There’s also petrified wood from the period.
These fossils are unique because they are trace fossils, meaning unlike traditional ones, which preserve the death of an organism, they take the impression of a footprint, drag mark, or other live movement. Visitors can hike around the rocky landscape in search of some and see excavated examples in local museums.
See Related: Things to Do in Albuquerque, New Mexico
27. Dinosaur National Monument
While we’re on the subject, fossil fanatics should consider a trip a bit further north to Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the border of Colorado and Utah. This vast area covers the confluence of the Green River and Yampa River, and while that makes for beautiful natural scenery, it’s what’s hidden in the rock that makes this place special.
Over 800 paleontological sites are spread across the park, with a huge number of dinosaur fossils that have been found, and more continue to be uncovered. Dinosaur Quarry is the best spot for this, where visitors can walk past over a thousand recognizable remains embedded into cliff walls.
Scientists have determined that rivers carried the animals here, where sediments entombed them and eventually lithified them into rock.
More recent history visible in Dinosaur National Monument includes Native American petroglyphs and frontier settler homesteads. Hiking, camping, river rafting, and other recreational activities are also available. The Utah town of Vernal is your best bet for accommodation in this region, with the appropriately named Dinosaur Inn & Suites.
28. Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in eastern Washington State created a unique opportunity for scientists, which inspired the designation of Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument. The new landscape would also serve as a place for recreation.
The earthquakes that caused the eruption pushed gases toward the surface, sending rock, ash, mud, and other materials into the air. This swept away trees, covered ridges, and filled lakes with debris. While some might consider it pure destruction, true nature lovers recognize that this is a unique look into an environmental process, and leaving it all undisturbed allows us to observe the earth’s responses.
One of the most popular sights to see is the lakes, like Spirit Lake, which still have hundreds of decades-old logs floating around the surface; some sink to the bottom where they are in the process of petrification. Hiking around the mountain, including to the crater rim with a permit, is a popular activity, as are snowshoeing, fishing, biking, and more. Add this place on a Mount Rainier National Park road trip, or take a guided tour from Seattle or Portland.
See Related: Things to Do in Walla Walla, Washington
29. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve
Some conspiracy theorists say the moon landing was filmed in the Hollywood Hills or Area 51, but anyone who’s been to Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve would say that this place in Idaho would have been a better choice. This vast, weird moonscape between Boise and Idaho Falls is an out-of-this-world place to visit.
Over the last 15,000 years, eruptions of lava have created cinder cones, lava tubes, caves, and rift cracks. After it all cooled down, soil blew in and began hosting a sagebrush steppe ecosystem, along with wildlife like grizzly bears and bighorn sheep. Difficult conditions and a lack of water kept the humans and roads away, meaning the volcanic landscape is largely untouched.
Visitors can photograph the unique scenery, explore its many caves and lava tubes, hike up to a volcanic cone, or drive the seven-mile Loop Road. As with many national monuments, Craters of the Moon is best done on a road trip, but guided tours from Twin Falls are available for those who don’t have wheels or prefer an expert alongside them.
30. Waco Mammoth National Monument
Just outside the city of Waco, Texas lies the mass grave of a group of mammoths that were believed to be entombed by a flash flood over 10,000 years ago. Waco Mammoth National Monument preserves their fossilized remains in situ, giving visitors the unique opportunity to see a real, prehistoric excavation site of a species that once roamed present-day Texas.
While adults were up to 14 feet tall and weighed 20,000 pounds, many Columbian mammoths were juveniles, and it’s believed that the group was a nursery herd that died together. A total of 24 of the animals have been found in this spot, and it’s the only known herd discovery to date. The site also contained the fossils of a camel.
The site was closed to the public and only accessible to researchers until 2009, and became a national monument just recently, in 2015. Visitors can walk over real excavation sites and see the fossils still in the earth. Consider spending a few days doing Texan activities in Waco along with this national monument.
See Related: Things to Do in Galveston, Texas
31. Misty Fjords National Monument
Another one of Alaska’s wonders is Misty Fjords National Monument, located near the state’s southern tip and 22 miles east of Ketchikan. Among its nearly 2.3 million acres are thousands of ocean inlets, big and small, from which rocky cliffs tower into the air.
The “misty” name comes from the weather here being very wet – it gets over 150 inches of rainfall each year. While it might sound unpleasant, that moisture makes it possible for rainforests to thrive on the steep slopes of the sea cliffs. Lakes and streams crossing between the vertical trees contribute, too.
This near-untouched preserve is breathtaking, and keeping it like that means access isn’t simple. Visitors can take a floatplane tour or scenic cruise from Ketchikan, some of which land for hiking opportunities inland. You can also find water taxi services to drop you closer to the monument with a kayak or canoe to explore.
32. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
The other northern corner state offers its wilderness in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Luckily, you can access this Maine national monument by car, but most people want to get off the pavement in this massive expanse in the state’s North Woods.
It borders Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, more of Maine’s finest wilderness treasures. The Penobscot River and many tributaries create fantastic kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking opportunities, which Maine is beloved for. Lucky visitors may even spot a giant moose.
Camping is also popular in this national monument, and the night sky is incredible from this wild place. Still, many Maine loyalists prefer one of the state’s best-known types of accommodation. Especially in this region, you can easily find a lakefront cabin to rent, often stocked with water toys and fishing gear.
See Related: Things to Do in Buffalo, New York
33. Jewel Cave National Monument
The second-largest cave in the United States is found in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is protected by Jewel Cave National Monument. There are over 215 miles (!) of explored passages among its reach under the surface and even more scenic hiking trails above.
Jewel Cave was discovered by two local prospectors in 1900 when they felt air flowing out of a small hole in the ground. They blew it open further with dynamite and found a vast cavern of crystal-like structures, leading them to name it Jewel Cave. Its exploration continues today, and scientists estimate that humans have only visited a tiny percentage of its total volume.
Visitors can choose from one of three guided tours into the cave depending on distance and their abilities. It’s cool (and refreshing) to feel the cave “breathe,” as the pressure inside is constantly equating with the outside, just like the nearby Wind Cave. Don’t miss this on a visit to western South Dakota, as it’s just an hour from Rapid City and the area’s many natural wonders.
34. Buck Island Reef National Monument
We’ve seen a lot of mountains, canyons, caves, and manmade monuments, but a select few national monuments are all about the sea. Buck Island Reef National Monument is one of them and one of the few that isn’t almost impossible to access.
Buck Island lies just north of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is small and uninhabited, and while its beaches are magnificent, what lies under the surface offshore is even better.
The monument protects over 18,000 acres of pristine coral reefs, as well as the marine flora and fauna that live there. Snorkelers can “hike” some of the only underwater “trails” here.
Spotted eagle rays, sea turtles, and sharks like lemon, nurse, and black tip varieties are some of the big residents that are exciting to see in the wild. Part of the preservation of the environment means limiting access, so you’ll need to take a guided tour from St. Thomas, St. John, or St. Croix to get here; private vessels can apply for a permit as well.
See Related: Best Caribbean Islands to Visit
35. Military Working Dog Teams National Monument
The last national monument I’ll detail is one that I wouldn’t have excluded under any circumstances – the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument. It is the smallest national monument, counting under 4,000 square feet of space, but a very important one that recognizes the patriotic contributions of man’s best friend.
The monument, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, was the idea of a dog team handler who lost his furry partners in the Vietnam War. A campaign to honor the sacrifices of canine war heroes resulted in five bronze sculptures on a granite pedestal, along with the history of these teams inscribed. Nearby, another sculpture of a soldier pouring water into his helmet beside his dog also serves as a working fountain for dog visitors to take a drink.
Military, DoD, and other CAC-holding visitors can access this memorial anytime, but the general public has some restrictions since it’s on a base. Luckily, it’s simple enough for most visitors with a government-issued I.D. to get a pass at the East Luke Visitor Center.
List of National Monuments in the United States
|National Monument||Agency||Location||Year Established|
|African Burial Ground||NPS||New York||2006|
|Agate Fossil Beds||NPS||Nebraska||1997|
|Aleutian Islands World War 2||FWS||Alaska||2008|
|Alibates Flint Quarries||NPS||Texas||1965|
|Aztec Ruins||NPS||New Mexico||1923|
|Basin and Range||BLM||Nevada||2015|
|Bears Ears||BLM, USFS||Utah||2016|
|Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality||NPS||District of Columbia||2016|
|Berryessa Snow Mountain||USFS, BLM||California||2015|
|Birmingham Civil Rights||NPS||Alabama||2017|
|Booker T. Washington||NPS||Virginia||1956|
|Browns Canyon||BLM, USFS||Colorado||2015|
|Buck Island Reef||NPS||US Virgin Islands||1961|
|Camp Nelson Heritage||NPS||Kentucky||2018|
|Canyon de Chelly||NPS||Arizona||1931|
|Canyons of the Ancients||BLM||Colorado||2000|
|Capulin Volcano||NPS||New Mexico||1916|
|Casa Grande Ruins||NPS||Arizona||1918|
|Castillo de San Marcos||NPS||Florida||1924|
|Castle Clinton||NPS||New York||1946|
|Cesar E. Chaves||NPS||California||2012|
|Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers||NPS||Ohio||2013|
|Craters of the Moon||NPS, BLM||Idaho||1924|
|El Malpais||NPS||New Mexico||1987|
|El Morro||NPS||New Mexico||1906|
|Florissant Fossil Beds||NPS||Colorado||1969|
|Fort Stanwix||NPS||New York||1935|
|Fort Union||NPS||New Mexico||1956|
|George Washington Birthplace||NPS||Virginia||1930|
|George Washington Carver||NPS||Missouri||1943|
|Gila Cliff Dwellings||NPS||New Mexico||1907|
|Governors Island||NPS||New York||2001|
|Grand Canyon Parashant||BLM, NPS||Arizona||2000|
|HaGerman Fossil Beds||NPS||Idaho||1988|
|Hanford Reach||FWS, DOE||Washington||2000|
|Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad||FWS||Maryland||2013|
|Jewel Cave||NPS||South Dakota||1908|
|John Day Fossil Beds||NPS||Oregon||1974|
|Kasha-Katuwe Ten Rocks||BLM||New Mexico||2001|
|Katahdin Woods and Waters||NPS||Maine||2016|
|Little Bighorn Battlefield||NPS||Montana||1940|
|Marianas Trench Marine||NOAA, FWS||Guam||2009|
|Medgar and Myrlie Evans Home||NPS||Mississippi||2020|
|Military Working Dog Teams||DOD||Texas||2013|
|Mill Springs Battlefield||NPS||Kentucky||2020|
|Mount St. Helens Volcanic||USFS||Washington||1982|
|Northeast Canyons and Seamonts Marine||NOAA, FWS||Atlantic Ocean||2016|
|Organ Pipe Cactus||NPS||Arizona||1937|
|Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks||BLM||New Mexico||2014|
|Pacific Remote Islands Marine||NOAA, FWS||US Minor Outlying Islands||2009|
|Papahānaumokuākea Marine||NOAA, FWS||Hawaii, US Minor Outlying Islands||2006|
|Prehistoric Trackways||BLM||New Mexico||2009|
|President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home||AFRH||District of Columbia||2000|
|Rio Grande del Norte||BLM||New Mexico||2013|
|Rose Atoll Marine||NOAA, FWS||American Samoa||2009|
|Saint Francis Dam Disaster||USFS||California||2019|
|Salinas Pueblo Missions||NPS||New Mexico||1909|
|San Gabriel Mountains||USFS||California||2014|
|San Juan Islands||BLM||Washington||2013|
|Sand to Snow||BLM, USFS||California||2016|
|Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains||BLM, USFS||California||2000|
|Statue of Liberty||NPS||New York, New Jersey||1924|
|Sunset Crater Volcano||NPS||Arizona||1930|
|Tule Lake||NPS, FWS||California||2008|
|Tule Springs Fossil Beds||NPS||Nevada||2014|
|Upper Missouri River Breaks||BLM||Montana||2001|
|Virgin Islands Coral Reef||NPS||US Virgin Islands||2001|
How many national monuments are there?
There are currently 131 national monuments in the United States. 9 federal agencies manage them, and they are spread across 31 states, Washington DC, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
What state has the most national monuments?
California and Arizona have the most national monuments; both of these states have 18 national monuments. New Mexico is next with 13. The west and southwest, in general, is a great place to see many national monuments.
Why are national monuments important?
National monuments in the United States are designed to safeguard important cultural assets, history, and legacies. The fact that the president can designate them quickly with executive action is an important way to protect historic, culturally significant, and beautiful landscapes Americans want to appreciate.
What was the first national monument?
On September 24, 1906, Devils Tower in Wyoming was proclaimed a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt, making it the first of its kind. Devils Tower remains a national monument managed by the National Park Service today, while certain others have become full-blown national parks.
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.