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Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Overview

Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming was originally founded in 1834 for its strategic location at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.  Purchased by the U.S. military in 1849, it saw its share of history as a major military post on the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Cheyenne-Deadwood stage route. West of the fort, stop at Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site and Register Cliff where pioneers left their mark along the North Platte River.

Highlights

Museum, film, 1874 Cavalry Barracks, 1849 “Old Bedlam”

Must-Do Activity

Come for the free 4th of July festivities and explore the restored buildings encircling the parade grounds, in between watching demonstrations of cannon firing and oxen plowing.  The National Park Service (NPS) employees host a variety of old-fashioned activities for kids and adults, including a three-legged race for adults.  Grab a partner and join in the fun or simply watch from the sidelines with a cold sarsaparilla, cream soda, or birch beer in your hand.  You are sure to have a good, old-fashioned good time even if you head home before the fireworks.

Best Trail

Fort Laramie was never a condensed, palisaded fort, so walking to all 11 restored structures covers quite a bit of distance (like Fort Union in New Mexico).  You can also hike along the banks of the Laramie River where the Oregon National Historic Trail once led.

Instagram-worthy Photo

“Old Bedlam,” the former quarters of bachelor officers, dates to 1849 making it the oldest documented building in Wyoming.  The right side is now restored to appear as officers’ quarters and the left side to post headquarters in 1863 when Lt. Col. William O. Collins lived on the second floor with his wife.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fola/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

The town of Fort Laramie offers camping at its small municipal park, or head west to Guernsey State Park with its historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures.

Related Sites

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Explore More – What was the name of the original stockade constructed by fur traders in 1834?

Fort Union National Monument

Overview

Fort Union was a military outpost on the historic Santa Fe Trail first constructed in 1851.  An earthwork fortification was built during the Civil War before Confederate troops were pushed back into Texas after a nearby battle in early 1862 (see Pecos National Historical Park).  At its peak, 1,666 soldiers were stationed here, making it the largest fort in the southwest U.S.  This expansive post was abandoned in 1891 and officially became a National Monument in 1954.

Highlights

Museum, film, adobe ruins, wagon ruts on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Fort Union was not the most popular place to be stationed in the 1800s, especially for the military wives who bemoaned the constant winds and frequent dust storms.  That said; expect it to be windy during your visit.  The adobe walls here are smoothed by years of erosion and appear to be melting back into the prairie soil from which their bricks were formed in the 1860s.  If you line it up right, you can take a neat photograph where all the window frames are in a row.

Best Trail

Wagon ruts can be seen at Fort Union since it was located on the 1,200-mile Santa Fe National Historic Trail (like Fort Larned in Kansas and Bent’s Old Fort in Colorado).  Since there was no stockade around the fort, walking to all of its ruins covers quite a distance (like Fort Laramie in Wyoming).

Instagram-worthy Photo

The smooth adobe walls make a great backdrop for a wagon that looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint before it hits the Santa Fe Trail again.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/foun/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The fort is not far off Interstate 25, but the last portion of the drive is a graded dirt road, as is the parking lot.

Camping

Storrie Lake State Park is 33 miles from Fort Union and there is also free camping in the summer at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge located just off Interstate 25.

Related Sites

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (Colorado)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – When did Spain grant Mexico its independence, opening up commerce with the United States and starting the Santa Fe Trail?

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Overview

More than 200 years ago, Fort McHenry survived a 25-hour bombardment from the British navy and inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” (which did not officially become the U.S. national anthem until 1931).  The flag flying the night of September 13, 1814 measured 42 x 30 feet!  It is no wonder he was stirred while watching “the rockets’ red glare” from aboard a U.S. truce ship under British guard floating in the Chesapeake Bay outside Baltimore, Maryland.  The Congreve rocket was a new type of weapon at the time, and, luckily for the Americans, very inaccurate.

Geese flyover!

Highlights

Museum, film, fort, twice daily flag changes

Must-Do Activity

Fort McHenry went on to serve as a temporary prison during the Civil War, when its many cannons were pointed towards the city of Baltimore so Confederate sympathizers would not secede from the Union.  During World War I, the fort served as a veterans’ hospital before being designated a National Park Service (NPS) unit in 1925.  Later it was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, the only park with this unique distinction. 

Best Trail

Star Spangled Banner National Historic Trail is not a hiking trail so much as it is a collection of sites related to the War of 1812 in and around the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Our flag is still there.  This is officially the only NPS unit where the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day.  Daily flag changes take place at 9:30 a.m. and 4:20 p.m., weather permitting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fomc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads paved to the designated NPS parking lot.

Camping

Patapsco Valley State Park is located west of Baltimore, Maryland.

Related Sites

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Hampton National Historic Site (Maryland)

Fort Washington Park (Maryland)

Explore More – When a new state is added to the union, the newly redesigned flag is first flown over Fort McHenry, so when did that last occur?

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Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

Overview

It was near Daviston, Alabama on March 27, 1814 that a fortified village of Upper Creek (or Red Stick) Indians was attacked by a superior force under the leadership of Major General Andrew Jackson.  Jackson started by firing cannons at the barricade for two hours, then his overanxious Indian allies pressed the issue by crossing the river to fight.  Jackson quickly ordered his men to charge and overtook the stronghold.  This proved to be the final battle of the Creek Indian War of 1813-14, which is considered part of the War of 1812.  In the treaty that followed, the tribe ceded much of the land that became the state of Alabama to the United States.  When Jackson became president in 1828, he signed the Indian Removal Bill and soon both the Upper Creeks and his former Indian allies were forced west on the Trail of Tears.

Highlights

Museum, film, auto tour, nature trail

Must-Do Activity

A short but good film is the best way to start learning about this lesser known yet important battle of the War of 1812 that brought fame to Andrew Jackson.  A diorama in the visitor center illustrates the fortifications used at Horseshoe Bend.   On the three-mile auto tour, only short walks are required from any interpretive pullout.

Best Trail

An alternative to the auto tour is a 2.8-mile nature trail that visits the same interpretive sites.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A tight curve in the Tallapoosa River in eastern Alabama provided the name for Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.  Indian allies of the U.S. started the 1814 battle by swimming then paddling stolen canoes across the river to get behind the fortifications.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hobe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is no camping allowed here, but Wind Creek State Park has a campground 25 miles southwest of the park.

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Russell Cave National Monument (Alabama)

Explore More – Where did a much more famous U.S. victory during the War of 1812 take place under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson?

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

Overview

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is located on South Bass Island in western Lake Erie.  Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry not only had the best name in the War of 1812, his naval victory near here on September 10, 1813 was a turning point.  The 1817 Rush-Bagot Agreement is still in effect today, assuring that the U.S. and Canada maintain the world’s longest undefended international border.  The 352-foot tall memorial tower was built between 1912-15 and became part of the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1936.

Highlights

Museum, film, 352-foot tall memorial tower, black squirrels

Must-Do Activity

After departing from your ferry or airplane, head to the NPS visitor center for the free museum and film, then pay for your ticket to ascend the granite memorial tower in an elevator.  On a sunny day the views from the 317-foot tall viewing level across Lake Erie are splendid, including the shoreline of Canada and the roller coasters at Cedar Point.  The rotunda at the tower’s base also contains the remains of three American and three British soldiers who died during the 1813 battle.

Best Trail

It is about two miles from the ferry terminal to the NPS visitor center, but if the weather is nice it is a pleasant walk on roads that are not busy.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The windows facing the memorial tower at the NPS visitor center are mirrored, which makes for a really interesting and distorted reflection.

Peak Season

Summer (May to October is the only time you can enter the memorial)

Hours

Open seasonally: https://www.nps.gov/pevi/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free for museum, $10 per person for elevator to top of tower or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

South Bass Island is only accessible by boat or airplane.  Ferry service allows you to bring your own vehicle to the island, which is small enough to walk everywhere or drive in a rental golf cart.

Camping

South Bass Island State Park has more than 100 primitive campsites on the island and East Harbor State Park on the mainland has more than 500 campsites with modern facilities.

Related Sites

River Raisin National Battlefield Park (Michigan)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Ohio)

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