The Fourth of July is upon us, and as we celebrate the birth of a nation, it’s our opportunity to remember the things that make this country great. The United States is now 241 years old and in an entirely different era—with different actors, a different culture, and different politics—than the one into which it was born. Small and anachronistic pockets of the frontier remain, and by going into the outdoors we engage in a small way with the relationship that created the American spirit of resilience, resourcefulness, and hope.
But that isn’t the only way to celebrate our common history. As the nation passes into its middle age, we have more opportunity to appreciate the challenges and accomplishments of our past. We have two centuries of history behind us, and in that time our culture has experienced world wars and industrial revolutions, not to mention the gradual and complete settlement of the West.
Take some time on this holiday to appreciate this and more with these 10 adventures that take you off the beaten path and to monuments of our history alike.
1. National Mall + Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
Nothing encapsulates the nation’s history better than the National Mall, where you can wander through the history of our presidents, wars, and social movements in one place. See the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in one giant tour. Guess what? The National Mall has a thousand acres of greenspace, too.
2. George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Washington, D.C.
You may have to head west to find true mountains, but this monument still celebrates a giant. Celebrate the nation’s first president with a walk through one of the four gardens, the farm, and the forest at his old plantation home.
3. Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Keeping alive the memory of more than 400,000 active service members, the Arlington National Cemetery is a must for anyone who seeks to celebrate the men and women who died in the defense of the United States. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded at all hours and all days. The national cemetery was designated in 1864.
4. The Endless Wall, West Virginia
Awarded the nation’s best national park hike by USA Today in 2015, the Endless Wall remains a perfect getaway to avoid the crowds on Independence Day. Consider the Endless Underworld, a section of the trail that includes climbing ladders and scrambling over large rocks.
5. Custer State Park, South Dakota
The park near Mount Rushmore is a great way to brush by the iconic monument and get your camping in, too. The park is busy, but there’s a lot to be busy about: Black Elk Peak, a 7-mile hike in the Black Hills, the Cathedral Spires, and several scenic drives, including those with views of Mount Rushmore.
6. Yankee Girl Mine, Colorado
When we started to move west, our nation began to scramble for the abundant natural resources found there. As a result, the West has a rich mining history, and nowhere is this better enshrined than Colorado’s western slope. The Yankee Girl Mine in the San Juan Mountains is one of its most picturesque in a mountain range that has no equal.
7. Knapp’s Castle, California
A monument to America’s age of industry, the former mansion of Union Carbide president George Owen Knapp burned in 1964 and turned the site into a great hiking destination. At the end of a short and easy hike, the ruins are great at sunset, and stray fireworks might be visible after nightfall.
8. Old Mission Santa Barbara, California
Before California was a state in the U.S., it was a Spanish state intent on converting the Native Americans to Catholicism. This history endures today in places like the Old Mission. Established in 1786, just 10 years into the American experiment, the mission has been continuously led by Franciscan friars since its inception.
9. Independence Trail, California
Another place rich with mining history, Northern California went bonkers during the gold rushes of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Independence Trail in South Yuba River State Park is the nation’s first ADA-accessible wilderness trail, and an easy way to get into the backcountry without fighting the crowds. Enjoy the Gold Rush-era flumes along the way that were converted to trails.
10. Icicle Ridge via Fourth of July Creek Trail, Washington State
A great overnight backpacking trip, the hike in the Stuart Range offers a great escape from the city on Independence Day. Dissolve into the wilderness like a pioneer, or a member of a Spanish exploration expedition… and exercise your own sense of independence. The route is short enough for beginners and wanders through the same alpine terrain as the Enchantments.