When you think of the natural wonders of the United States, you probably think of national park classics like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Great Smoky Mountains. These places are incredible, but there’s more to the National Park Service than the parks. The NPS is also one of eight federal agencies that oversee a long list of national monuments. National monuments are protected federal sites created by U.S. presidents under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. These are sites deemed to be of significant national historical or scientific interest. And all of them make great RV travel destinations.
You may not make it to all 129 sites, so we thought we’d help you narrow down your list. Here are 11 must-see national monuments to see before you die.
1. Statue of Liberty, New York
The iconic Lady Liberty was a gift from the French people to the American people to celebrate the virtues of liberty and democracy. It has become one of the universal icons of America and an inspiration to the millions that have immigrated through Ellis Island over the years. Seeing the statue in person is a moving experience you won’t forget.
The Statue of Liberty is located on a small island, so you’ll need to take a ferry to get there. Smaller RVs can park in one of the two ferry parking lots. Others will need to find out-of-town accommodations, then drive in. Ellis Island is also well worth visiting if you are heading to see the statue and the immigration museum there is not to miss.
2. Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Devils Tower is the nation’s first national monument, established by the great Teddy Roosevelt. The moment you see it in person, you’ll understand why. It is a truly unique marvel of nature. Once a sacred site for Native Americans—long before white settlers encountered it—the tower is majestic, alien, and totally awe-inspiring. It has even been featured on shows like The UnXplained on the History Channel thanks to its mysterious beginnings.
There are a number of excellent hikes in the area surrounding the tower, which is also home to a large prairie dog colony on the road to the monument—something kids of all ages will love watching.
One of the nicest KOA Kampgrounds in the U.S. is located on the outskirts of the monument and affords great views of Devils Tower. Although there are somewhat less expensive options nearby, none offer such great views of the monument.
3. The Giant Sequoia National Monument, California
No matter how many times you see the Giant Sequoias in person, they will take your breath away. These are the largest trees in the world, and quite possibly the largest species ever to exist on earth. Some of them have lived for more than 3,000 years. Standing next to these giants is both humbling and exhilarating—they are a monument to the awesome power of life.
The Sequoias are great to visit at all times of the year, but you’ll need an RV ready to handle snowy roads if you go in winter. There are plenty of RV parks in the vicinity but they can fill up quickly during the peak summer season.
4. Mount St. Helens, Washington
In 1980, the scenic Mount St. Helens erupted in the most violent and costly volcanic event in U.S. history. A vast portion of the mountain was annihilated in the cataclysmic blast. When you look at before and after pictures, the devastation is mind-boggling. When you see the mountain in person, it’s even more so.
The notion of such a huge object being destroyed in a moment gives you great respect for the tectonic forces of the earth. It’s a place of intense scientific interest, both for geology and biology as the area is re-settled by living species after utter destruction.
You can’t camp directly on the mountain, but the parking lot at the site does accommodate a wide range of RVs. The road up to the visitors center is a great scenic drive when the weather is clear.
5. George Washington Birthplace, Virginia
While the location itself may not be awe-inspiring, the legacy of the man that was born here is. His place as the father of the United States is well deserved. In his time, George Washington was revered like no other man in the U.S. He could have easily been president for life, but instead, he voluntarily ceded power after his second term setting a critical precedent for future leaders to follow.
Ideally, you should time your visit with one of the many reenactment events that are held on the grounds. History buffs of the revolutionary period have made the George Washington Birthplace a hub of their activities. If you want the full George Washington experience, you should also visit his family home at Mount Vernon.
6. Misty Fjords National Monument, Alaska
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter designated over 2,200,000 acres of forest and fjords in Southern Alaska to be a national monument. Today, Misty Fjords remains the largest wilderness area in the Tongass National Forest. Here, you’ll find tall cliffs that rise like skyscrapers from the waters of the deep fjords.
As for activities, ten trails provide over 20 miles of hiking opportunity. Visitors can travel by boat or floatplane through the waterways for up-close wildlife experiences with creatures like killer whales, porpoises, mountain goats, and bears. The Tongass National Forest is home to numerous campgrounds and camping areas, so you’ll be sure to find a place to park your rig for the night.
7. Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
If you like rocks, this is the national monument for you. Chiricahua National Monument is home to a geologic garden of crazy rock formations. It is especially known for its balancing rocks, huge boulders supported by only a tiny column of stone. You can take a number of hikes into the crazy landscape to view these wonders up close. Just be aware, it can be blazing hot in high summer. This national monument is also an incredible spot for bird watching. It’s a stopover for many migratory birds, including those that normally live in the south and Central America.
The monument does have its own camping, but the RV sites are limited to 28-feet so you’ll have to find parking outside the park for larger rigs.
8. Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
Bandelier is a fascinating monument that is both a place of rich natural beauty and cultural history. This sheltered valley is a natural oasis and was home to the cliff dwelling native people of the desert Southwest. The cliff-carved dwellings are fascinating windows to the past, naturally fortified against attack yet close to the life-giving valley below. This monument has a nice museum, and hosts numerous cultural and scientific events to entertain and educate the public.
You can’t camp on site here, but there are numerous campgrounds in the area that cater to all manner of RVs. From here, there are quite a few great places to visit and explore.
9. Fort Sumter, South Carolina
You could spend an entire year touring all the civil war monuments and sites in the Southeastern U.S. All of them are fascinating and worth visiting. But if you have to pick a place to start, Fort Sumter is a great choice. This is where the first shots were fired in the war as the Confederates attacked and captured it on April 12, 1861. The fort had remained in active service for 171 years; from 1776 to 1947. It has been lovingly restored and maintained by the parks service.
Like many Civil War sites, you may want to time your visit with a reenactment event. Reenactments bring sizable crowds, but they also really enhance the historical experience, bringing the past to life. This is an Island fort, so you won’t be able to park on site and will need to find local accommodations and take a ferry to the monument.
10. Natural Bridges, Utah
Utah is home to so many awe-inspiring natural wonders that it’s nearly impossible to avoid falling in love with the state. Natural Bridges was Utah’s first national monument. Named for the huge natural stone arches found here, it has both the second and third largest arches in the U.S. Beyond the arches, the landscape itself is gorgeous and there are lots of great hikes to take here. Be sure to visit the park at night as well to see some of the darkest skies in the nation. The summer milky way is amazing against the silhouette of the arches.
They don’t have overnight parking on site, but there is no shortage of RV parks anywhere in Utah.
11. Craters of the Moon, Idaho
Craters of the Moon is the best preserved lava field in the continental U.S. Although the lava fields located in Hawaii are active, the island is sadly not an easy place to drive to in an RV. For those living in the continental U.S., Craters of the Moon is your best bet for seeing what a lava-covered landscape looks like. It’s part of a region called “the great rift” which has seen volcanic eruptions for thousands of years due to cracks in the continental crust. The whole area is a geological wonderland.
Craters of the Moon also has quite a few lava caves you can explore—some of which have year-round ice in them and are great escapes for beating the summer heat. Just be sure to bring sturdy shoes as the rocky landscape is not easy on the feet.
Ready to blaze a trail and visit these amazing national monuments? Get started by finding the perfect RV to get you there.