The four presidents carved into the side of Mount Rushmore represent the birth of our nation. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt all look out on our country with pride. This historical spot is a great backdrop for an inspired celebration of your own family history.
Visitor Information: 605-574-2523
New Jersey; New York
In 1892, Ellis Island opened its doors to welcome the first group of steerage and third-class passengers into the United States. By the time it closed its doors in 1954, Ellis Island had processed 12 million immigrants, giving them Americanized names, inspecting them for head lice, and welcoming them to America. Today Ellis Island, together with the Statue of Liberty, is a museum dedicated to the history of immigration. If any members of your family came through Ellis Island, visiting could be a unique activity around which to organize your family reunion.
Visitor Information: 212-363-3200
Acadia National Park
At the northeast edge of the country there lies an island where the waves of the Atlantic come crashing into the cliffs. Welcome to Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park.
Acadia has over 40 miles of tree-lined carriage roads, perfect for families looking for a gentle stroll or an afternoon of biking. From bird walks to stargazing, there are no shortages of Ranger-led activities in the park. Learn about the history of the land where native people began settling 5,000 years ago. Then, come sunset, make sure you find yourself in one of the many spots of the park offering shimmering views of the ocean.
Contrary to popular belief, moose sighting in Maine is not very high. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to spot one in the woods.
Visitor Information: 207-288-3338
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is where all aspects of nature come together. Visitors hover mostly in the Yosemite Valley, but when you go, do what naturalist and Yosemite founder John Muir would've done -- see it all. Ride to Glacier Point for an overlook with an immaculate view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierras; drive Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows and watch the flowers of the meadow blossom in the spring. Then head on over to Mariposa Grove and crane your neck to the sky to witness the largest living things on earth -- sequoia trees.
And when you do eventually make your way down to the Valley, drive right up to one of the largest waterfalls in the world -- Yosemite Falls, where the sheer force of 2,000-plus feet of falling water will make your knees quiver.
Visitor Information: 209-372-0200
Shenandoah National Park
Cutting through the entire length of Shenandoah National Park is Skyline Drive, one of the most impressive scenic roads you will ever drive. Keep your eyes open as you cruise at the strictly enforced 35 m.p.h. speed limit because you are sure to encounter deer and other wildlife frolicking alongside the road.
If you like to learn about where you are and what you're looking at, Shenandoah (Native American for "Daughter of the Stars") will not disappoint. Along the length of the 105-mile Skyline Drive, there are 75 overlooks giving background to the land's geography, history, and early settlements. When you're ready to leave the car, test-hike a few of the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through the park. At the end of the day, lie down and stretch your weary body in Big Meadows, appropriately named for its enormity.
Visitor Information: 540-999-3500
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon plunges 6,000 feet at its deepest point. From above, the view into the madness of geologic wonder is a sight most people never forget. It accomplishes every feat nature was intended for -- to inspire, to provoke thought, and, in some cases, to bring man to tears.
Yet looking down into the canyon is only one way to experience one of the world's most fascinating geologic formations. Hiking down to meet the Colorado River is another part of the adventure. But unlike most national parks, there are no roads cutting through Grand Canyon. Most of what lies in the 277-mile gorge has to be experienced on foot. Mule rides and helicopter tours are much pricier alternatives.
Visitor Information: 928-638-7888
Six Flags AstroWorld
Imagine a flyswatter with webbing on both sides of the handle. Imagine this flyswatter spinning 360 degrees in either direction. Now imagine being strapped onto this swatter like a helpless fly as it goes catapulting 105 feet in the air at 30 m.p.h. Sounds like fun? Then experience Swat at Six Flag's AstroWorld. With 33 rides offering thrills in land, air, and water, you'll see why this is Texas's first choice for theme parks.
Visitor Information: 713-799-1234
Also recommended: Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey and Six Flags Magic Mountain, California
Consider your visit to Tinseltown incomplete without a Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. During the action-packed tram ride you'll encounter armed stormtroopers, a killer shark famous for his Jaws, and mighty King Kong himself. You'll also get behind the scenes look at Universal's latest movies.
Thrill seekers will find satisfaction in rides like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future, and families will come together for shows like Spider-Man Rocks and the new OgreVision hit Shrek 4-D. After a day of blockbuster fun in the world's largest theme park and movie studio, cool off with a stroll on the CitiWalk.
Visitor Information: 1-800-UNIVERSAL
Also recommended: Universal Studios, Florida
San Diego, California
If you need a break from roller coasters and spinning horses, take a day to visit Shamu and his friends at Sea World. Here sea creatures are the stars and you can see, touch, feed, and play with many of them.
Sea World's biggest draw continues to be the Shamu Adventure. The world famous killer whale teams up with Baby and Grandbaby Shamu to show off all their aqua-acrobatic skills. If you're catching an evening performance, you might want to sit closer to the back. Shamu's pool holds seven million gallons of water and he's not afraid to share some with you.
Visitor Information: 800-380-3203
Also recommended: Sea World, Florida
If a reunion in a seaside town is what you had in mind, you'll find it difficult to find a place more scenic and appropriate than Monterey Bay. Enjoy a walk down Canary Lane, where you'll find plenty of restaurants and chocolate shops to satisfy your appetite. The kids will get a kick out of the elephant seals who can be heard barking even before you park your car by Fisherman's Wharf.
If you live in the area, instead of flying in, experience the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1). Depending on which direction you're coming from, you'll see Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and the Hearst Castle in Sam Simeon while enjoying breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Images courtesy of National Parks Service, Universal Studios, Six Flags, and Sea World.
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