AMERICAN WONDERS

15 Places Your Kids Should See Before 15

It took us hours of heated debate, weeks of research, and years of experience to whittle down America's monuments to a definitive list of 15 musts for anyone under 15. Not only are these attractions fun and (shhhh) educational, they're especially magical through the eyes of a child.

A stunning look over Yellowstone National Park.

(Courtesy Mila Zinkova/Wikimedia Commons)

Two years ago, we picked 15 American landmarks every kid should see, from Ellis Island to Redwood National Park. Our new and improved 2011 lineup takes that challenge even further, by highlighting how our country's top sights cater to kids' abbreviated attention spans. From roasting marshmallows around a campfire to playing dress-up at Monticello, these cool, interactive activities ensure that the younger set will enjoy these must-see spots as much as their parents do.

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Grand Canyon (Ariz.): During the day, stroll the 4-year-old Skywalk, a U-shaped, glass-bottom observation deck that juts 70 feet over the canyon's West Rim and sits 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. Come sunset, hit Grand Canyon Apache Stables, where, for $25.50 per person, you can hitch a one-hour ride on a horse-drawn wagon that ends around a campfire. Tip: BYO marshmallows and hot dogs so you can cook up a nighttime snack. Skywalk Package including mandatory Legacy pass. Kids 3–11, $57.49; Adults, $73. grandcanyonskywalk.com Grand Canyon Apache Stables: $25.50, kids 8 and up, apachestables.com/rides

Redwood National Park (Calif.): Ancient, sky-high sequoias aren't the only attraction in this lush California locale—there's cool aquatic life, too. Take a guided tide pool tour, where budding biologists can scramble between the coastal forest's rocks while hunting for underwater creatures such as orange and purple ochre sea stars and sprawling, green anemones. Free tide pool tours are offered during the summer through Redwood National Park; check website for exact schedule. nps.gov

Monticello (Va.): The dreaded "look but don't touch" rule means nothing at the Griffin Discovery Room, which opened on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate in 2009. Nothing is off-limits in the space, which features replicas of the third president's possessions, from his alcove bed to his polygraph machine. Even his closet is fair game: Kids can try on clothes modeled after his 18th-century wardrobe. The Griffin Discovery Room is part of Monticello's House and Grounds tour. Adults, $17 (low season), $22 (high season); Kids 6-11, $8 (year-round).monticello.org


 

The Freedom Trail (Mass.): Who needs a social studies book when you can learn about Colonial history from an 18th-century ship captain while parading around Boston's waterfront? The 90-minute Pirates and Patriots tour, led by an actor in 1770s naval garb, focuses on maritime history and introduces the scrappy, ship-raiding characters that inhabited the city's North End during the Revolutionary era. Stops include the aptly named Long Wharf, once the longest in the world and the epicenter of Boston's colonial shipping industry, and Griffin's Wharf, site of the 1773 Boston Tea Party. Bonus: Some tour guides are known to hand out vintage goodies, so you might walk away with a fistful of colonial money or musket balls. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Boston. The Freedom Trail's Pirates & Patriots Tour runs from June to Nov. Adults, $12; kids 6–12, $7. thefreedomtrail.org

Niagara Falls (N.Y.): Sure, your grandparents honeymooned there, but the majestic waterfalls straddling the U.S.-Canada border are worth a 21st-century trip. Ever wonder what it's like to be a rubber ducky in a massive bathtub? Sign up for the Cave of the Winds tour, which begins after you change into a complimentary yellow poncho and sandals (trust us, you'll need 'em). After riding an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge, you'll stand on the Hurricane Deck, where you'll be drenched by the tropical-storm-like spray from the 181-foot Bridal Veil Falls, where the water falls at a rate of up to 68 mph.  Cave of the Winds operates May 1–Oct. 25. Adults, $11; kids 6–12, $8; 5 and under, free. niagarafallsstatepark.com

See the Spectacular Photos!

Check out pics of our favorite destinations for kids.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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