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15 Fascinating National Monuments Everyone Should Visit At Least Once In Their Lives

Road trip, anyone?

There's so much natural beauty to be found in the US, especially when it comes to our national monuments.

Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

Sure, our national parks are pretty amazing, but our monuments don't get enough love. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the biggest differences between National Parks and National Monuments is in the way they're established. Unlike parks, National Monuments can be created by US presidents without the approval of Congress. All to say: National monuments are just as impressive and beautiful as our parks. 

Here, we looked through the 129 national monuments existing today to find 15 that are representative of the vast biodiversity and geographic landscape you can experience. 

Have a favorite not mentioned on this list? Let us know in the comments below! 

1. Crazy Horse Memorial (South Dakota)

Small model of Crazy Horse Memorial foregrounding the actual memorial in progress
Andy Clark / Reuters

The sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the controversial Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948, thinking it would take 30 years to finish. It might now be in its 73rd year of construction and far from complete, but the piece — which commemorates Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and the Sioux people — is still fascinating in its history and a view worth the trip. 

To get a sense of its size, if one were to stack the four heads of Mt. Rushmore (another close-by national monument, FYI) one on top of the other, they'd only reach halfway to Crazy Horse. It's no wonder the monument is considered the eighth wonder of the world in progress. 

If you plan your visit carefully, you might get to watch one of the two annual "night blasts" that light up the mountain in an impressive pyrotechnical light show. (The next one is on September 6!)

2. Devils Tower (Wyoming)

Devils Tower with parallel cracks lit by sunrise
Powerofforever / Getty Images

If you're a climbing fanatic, you might already be aware of America's first national monument, also known as Devils Tower. This monument is known for its "cracked" appearance, formed by magma millions of years ago. These same cracks draw thousands of rock climbers to its face, who hope to scale the four- to six-hour ascent. 

And if you're not a climber, there are plenty of hikes you can do in the area. At night, find a place to pitch your tent in the campground, and treat yourself to a night of stargazing under pristine night skies. 

3. Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC)

Lincoln Memorial at sunset with many people sitting and standing on its steps
Trevor Carpenter / Getty Images

Immortalized as the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech in 1963, and — let's be real, Forrest Gump — the Lincoln Memorial is one of those monuments that elicits an emotional response from almost any American visiting, even without much context. 

From the vantage point of the statue of Lincoln, you can actually get a four-for-one and gaze toward the Washington Monument, the national World War II memorial, and, farther away, to the US Capitol. And fun fact: The monument is surrounded by 36 Doric columns, meant to represent the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's assassination. 

4. Chiricahua (Arizona)

Rows of lime-streaked stone pillars of Chiricahua National Monument
Frank Staub / Getty Images

Called the "The Land of Standing-Up Rocks" by the Apache people, this extraordinary formation of rock towers is au naturel, and is the result of violent geological activity south of the park millions of years back. Some of the rock pinnacles rise hundreds of feet into the air, sometimes resting on a small and seemingly precarious base. Of course, you can get up close and personal with the rocks by doing any of the recommended hikes

5. Birmingham Civil Rights (Alabama)

Statue of a police man and an aggressively barking dog holding on to the shirt of a small African American boy
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images

In the 1960s, Birmingham was the center of a nonviolent civil rights movement (aka, the Birmingham Campaign) led by Martin Luther King Jr., who once called the city the most segregated in the country. 

This monument, opened in 2017, honors the legacy of the historical protests, which ultimately led to to the desegragation of bathrooms, lunch counters, and drinking fountains, as well as new federal civil rights legislation. 

Encompassing roughly four city blocks, this monument showcases a few of the most historical sites of this time, including the16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

6. Katahdin Woods and Waters (Maine)

River coursing through green tall trees of Katahdin Woods and Waters
Portland Press Herald / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Covering over 87,000 acres of Maine territory, this monument is a nature lover's dream. Here, you can do everything from fish and canoe to hike and bike through lush woodland and scenic rivers and streams. 

Katahdin is the right destination for anyone who wants to go off the grid. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, there is no cellphone service here, and few amenities. That means you'll have to bring your own tent, water purifier, gas, and maps (since your GPS won't work here). 

And fun fact: Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt's Bees, donated $80 million worth of land and future financial support to make this monument possible. 

7. Statue of Liberty (New York)

The Statue of Liberty towers over the Hudson, with a bird flying in the background, as well as many skyscrapers
Prasit Photo / Getty Images

It might be one of the most well-known and photographed American monuments in the world, but that doesn't mean it's any less worth a visit. 

The Statue of Liberty, also known as Liberty Enlightening the World, was a gift from France to the US, and is now widely seen as an international symbol of democracy and freedom. 

It gained especial renown between 1892 and 1954, when millions of immigrants passed through nearby Ellis Island to enter the US. You might be aware of the famous sonnet engraved at the entrance, whose most famous line reads, "Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 

8. Carrizo Plain (California)

Carrizo Plain's vast rolling hill completely filled with yellow and purple flowers
Visions Of America / Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RF

This enclosed grassland is anything but plain, especially if you visit during flower-blooming season, which starts around mid-March and ends in June. During this time, fields of bright pastel vibrant flowers fill every surface with everything from owl’s clover and goldfields to coreopsis and tidy tips. If you're lucky, you might even spot rarer flowers like the Hoover’s woollystar. This vision is made even more magical by the absolute silence that dominates the space. To round out your trip, you can also visit the white alkali flats of Soda Lake and Painted Rock.

9. Misty Fjords (Alaska)

A view of Misty Fjords' mountain peaks with a body of water cutting through it and fog enveloping the view
Gemma / Getty Images

Known as the second biggest wilderness area in the US (and the biggest in Alaska), Misty Fjords rewards travelers with thick rainforest peaks, magnificent waterfalls that plunge into granite impositions, and postcard views everywhere you look. As per its name, look out for a perennial fog that embraces the area year-round and kisses the snowcapped peaks with an enchanting foreground. 

The remoteness of the area does come with a small price, though: To get to this off-the-beaten-path destination, you'll probably have to go by floatplane (air) or book a cruise tour (water). 

10. Agate Fossil Beds (Nebraska)

An area of grassland from Agate Fossil Beds with a walkway in the middle of it
Posnov / Getty Images

If you fancy walking around 20-million-years-old plains, then come on over to Agate Fossil Beds. It was here that diggers found the remains of prehistoric creatures like the Dinohyus (a giant pig-like animal) and Stenomylus (a small gazelle-camel). They aren't dinosaurs, but the history is still interesting: When they were first found, they were thought to be the taproots of a giant ancient plant. 

You'll get to learn about this and more at the visitor center, which also features the James Cook Collection of Lakota and Red Cloud-related artifacts which was realized thanks to the deep friendship fostered by the original owner of the ranch on which the fossils were founded, and Red Cloud, the Oglala Lakota chief.

And finally, if you've never been to this part of the US, you might also appreciate the poetic stillness of the rolling prairie you'll drive through to get to this location. 

11. Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)

A view from a high point of Cedar Breaks National Monument shows jagged hills and rocks. In the middle, a large geologic amphitheater swoops down
Robert Brett / Getty Images/500px Plus

This geologic ampitheater is exactly what it sounds like — it's a rock-made colosseum-like canyon that plunges 2,000 feet and carves out a giant area of limestone, shale, and sandstone and is marked by arches, towers, and canyons. You've never hiked somewhere like this before. 

It's also one of the only dark sky parks in the world, meaning your evenings will complement your adventurous days with brilliant stargazing. 

12. Poverty Point (Louisiana)

13. Upper Missouri River Breaks (Montana)

A tranquil waterway cuts through flat hills of the Upper Missouri River Breaks
Vw Pics / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Spanning 149 miles of the Upper Missouri River, this refuge of natural beauty contains an array of wildlife, plant life, and opportunities for tons of recreational activities. From fishing and hunting, to camping and hiking, this monument rewards those who wish to escape into an untouched wilderness. It helps that much of the monument is unpaved, resulting in a completely pedestrian-friendly area that is inaccessible to cars. 

14. Dinosaur (Colorado)

Fossilized dinosaur bones encased in prehistoric rock.
By Mike Lyvers / Getty Images

If you want to take a look at remains of the late Jurassic era, then head on over to Dinosaur National Monument. This site was discovered in the early 1900s, when a paleontologist looking for fossils chanced upon this goldmine of dinosaur remains. Eventually, he and his team found thousands of fossilized dinosaur bones, many of which can easily be seen on a cliff face they've preserved within the visitor's building. 

Of course, when you're done seeing your first dinosaur bone and examining prehistoric rock formations, there are plenty of other active things you can do like rafting, boating, and hiking through miles of trails. 

15. Craters of the Moon (Idaho)

Artificial walkway cuts through lumpy, dark lava formations of the Craters of the Moon monument
Mark Newman / Getty Images

Consisting of 60 lava flows that make up even more volcanic features, Craters of the Moon is an unusual and delightful monument that attracts adventures nationwide. A walk through the site will reveal everything from domes and cinder cones to cave-like structures and canyons, all made from ancient lava flows. There's no question that it was named for the martian surface that these flows created. 

But be warned: The Craters of the Moon volcano is an active volcano and considered high risk. Experts predict it'll erupt again in the next 1,000 years!

What's your favorite national monument that you've visited? Share in the comments!