The United States is one of the biggest countries on Earth. Given its massive size, the country is filled with many great landmarks, and some of them need to be seen to be believed. Whether it’s the incredible nature of Yellowstone National Park or the impressive engineering feat of the Hoover Dam, there are a number of must-see landmarks, and we’ve picked our top five for your next family adventure.
Top five American landmarks for your next family adventure
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The iconic Grand Canyon is a famous American landmark that is very popular among families as a tourist destination. Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, this landmark is a testament to nature’s raw power and beauty.
The Grand Canyon is essential for families as it offers an unrivalled opportunity to educate your children about geology and history, while at the same time providing them with incredible views they’ll remember for a lifetime. It can also help to instil a sense of respect for nature.
One must-see viewpoint at the canyon is Mather Point which is easily accessible from the visitor centre via footpath or shuttle bus. This spot provides an all-encompassing view of the canyon and its twisting river below. Another popular lookout point is Yavapai Observation Station which offers an unobstructed view across one of the widest parts of the canyon.
As far as activities are concerned, there’s plenty to keep you occupied at Grand Canyon National Park. There are a number of hiking trails of varying difficulties to explore, and kids will love the chance to ride through the park on the back of a mule. These mule rides are part of a guided tour that gives you a chance to explore the park in a unique way.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Located mostly in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is a natural wonderland that is perfect for an unforgettable family adventure. This sprawling reserve is the world’s first national park and spans over 2.2 million acres. Visitors travel from all over the world to see its famous geysers, hot springs, and diverse ecosystem, which supports a wide variety of wildlife.
The park’s ecosystem plays an important role in preserving biodiversity. 200 different species of animals called Yellowstone home, and if you’re lucky, you might get to see grizzly bears, wolves, or elk herds in their natural environments. Aside from animal life, Yellowstone also boasts nearly half of the world’s active geysers, including Old Faithful, a geyser that got its name due to its regularly timed eruptions.
There’s an endless amount of activities at Yellowstone to keep families entertained. If you want to get out on foot, there are a number of hiking trails that lead through forests, or you can take a scenic drive where you can spot the roaming wildlife safely from behind your car window. Checking out the Grand Prismatic Spring is another must-see due to its beautiful mix of colours, and the Mammoth Hot Springs is yet another popular geothermal wonder in the park.
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Back in the 1920s, construction began high up on a mountain in South Dakota to create a truly unique sculpture. The sculpture features the faces of four US Presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln — and this awe-inspiring sight is a great way for families to experience and learn about some of America’s past.
Check out the Sculptor’s Studio, where you can gain insight into the creation process, see the original tools on display, and hear from park rangers who explain how dynamite was used to carve these enormous figures. Taking a walk along the Presidential Trail is another good idea, as this will give you a different perspective of the monument and really drive home just how huge it is.
If you’re visiting Mount Rushmore between May and September, being there at night will give you a chance to experience the nightly lighting ceremony. As the night starts to begin, rangers will give a talk before illuminating the monument against the sky.
The Gateway Arch, St. Louis
Next up on our list is The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a historically important landmark that serves as a symbol for American westward expansion in the 19th century. A visit here offers families a chance to learn about an important part of US history, as well as get a close look at the tallest man-made monument in the United States.
In addition to exploring the arch itself, you’ll want to spend time at The Museum at The Gateway Arch which sits beneath it. This museum provides interactive exhibits about America’s history with topics like Native American culture, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, pioneers’ journey westward, and construction of the arch itself. These presentations are all engaging learning experiences and are suitable for both children and adults.
One thing to keep in mind is that tickets are needed to go up to the top of the arch, so make sure to book them beforehand. This can be done easily online. You should also aim to arrive a little bit early as there are quick security checks that are conducted before you can enter.
Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona
Last on our list today is the Hoover Dam, a modern marvel of engineering. It sits between the borders of Nevada and Arizona, and this huge arch-gravity dam was built during the Great Depression. It’s a very well-known landmark and a great place to visit on a family trip.
Its enormous size has to be seen to be believed. It stands 221 metres (726 feet) high and 379 metres (1,244 feet) long, and its primary purpose is to hold back Lake Mead — the largest reservoir in the US. Today it plays a role in providing hydroelectric power to several states, and it even made the list of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.
Given its popularity as a tourist destination, the dam caters well for all ages. There are regular guided walking tours where you can learn about its history, or you can even walk across the top to see some great views over Lake Mead and down into Black Canyon. The visitor centre also offers interactive exhibits that cover everything there is to know about the dam.
Family Adventure Travel Planning
Planning a family-friendly trip to tour these American landmarks requires careful preparation, especially if you want to visit them all on the same trip. Thankfully, with the right approach, you can create an itinerary that allows your family to visit all of these locations in one memorable journey.
The first step is to map out your route. The five destinations are spread across different states, so consider the best order for your visits based on their geographical proximity. For example, it could make sense to start with Hoover Dam at the Arizona-Nevada border before heading northwards to Grand Canyon in Arizona and then Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. From there, drive east towards Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and finally down south again to St Louis’ Gateway Arch.
When travelling with family — and especially children — travel costs are something that must be strongly considered. When planning your next US adventure, consider looking for flights in eDreams, a brand that compares thousands of results to find the best matches for your criteria. Comparing accommodation options and booking flights simultaneously can minimise the stress of travel planning. Thanks to the algorithms, efficient filters, and intuitive interface, the process is simpler.
Another cost consideration is admission fees, and these vary from site to site. While some parks like Yellowstone require entrance fees per vehicle ($35), others like Mount Rushmore ask for parking charges ($10) instead of entry tickets. The Gateway Arch offers Tram Ride Tickets ranging from $11-$19 depending on age groups, and visiting the Hoover Dam is typically free, although tours come at a fee ($15-$30).
Something else that can’t be overlooked when travelling as a family unit is safety. Each of these landmarks are well-travelled destinations and will have safety protocols in place, whether it’s for big crowds at popular locations or encounters with wildlife somewhere like Yellowstone. It’s a good idea to thoroughly research each destination and your travel route in the planning process, too.
The best way to alleviate the chances of anything going wrong is to be organised. While you’re planning, make a checklist of any necessary items to pack, make sure to book your flights, accommodation, transportation and any other bigger items well in advance, and always have a plan B for any unforeseen circumstances. Being well-organised will not only help to eliminate any stress, but it will also help to make sure everything runs smoothly and that you create unforgettable experiences together as a family.
The combination of the size of the United States, its history, and its success as a country make it home to many great landmarks that are well worth a visit. The thrill of a family adventure of this nature can create cherished memories for your kids that will last a lifetime.