Day 5: National Historic Parks and Sites

Last Updated on December 28, 2019 by Janet Frost

In previous posts of the 12 Days of National Parks series, I referred to National Park units designated as National Historic Parks. Today we are going to take a closer look at these NPS units. As a loyal reader of Go! Learn Things you already know that I love learning about the history and culture of my destinations. The National Historic designations in the NPS include Historic Sites(77), Historic Parks(52), Battlefields (11), Battlefield Parks (4), Military Parks(9) and one International Historic Site. They commemorate histories and cultures from indigenous ancient peoples to modern day heroes.

Let’s Go! Learn Things about history and culture at National Historic Parks…


Bent's Old Fort National Historic Parks on Santa Fe Trail
Bent’s Fort in La Junta Colorado. Was founded as a trading post between Plains tribes and trappers.

The kid in me loves forts. I can imagine the hustle of community inside the protective walls. Soldiers, traders, blacksmiths and mule drivers plying their trades. Often, forts were military installations guarding strategic landmarks. Along the Great Lakes, forts were the primary outlet for the fur-trading industry. In the West, forts served as trading posts, frontier trail supply stations, stagecoach stops and safe havens from hostile tribes.

Bent’s Old Fort

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Parks along Santa Fe Trail
A once bustling trading post and melting pot of cultures.

I encountered several forts along the Historic Santa Fe Trail. This route was vital for moving trade goods back and forth from the Eastern Seaboard to Mexico. The forts served as trading centers, watering holes and safe harbors. One of my favorites was Bent’s Old Fort in southeast Colorado. This fort was founded by businessmen, William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain. Built in 1833 to trade with plains Indians and trappers, it expanded greatly as the Santa Fe Trail traffic grew. Eventually, the fort was abandoned in 1849 and William Bent built a new one a few miles to the east, hence the name Bent’s Old Fort.

Fort Larned

National Historic Parks Fort Larned
Fort Larned in Kansas

Fort Larned in Larned, KS was the army post that housed the soldiers assigned to protect the Santa Fe Trail. They were actually referred to as the Guardians of the Santa Fe Trail. Fort Larned National Historic Site is a very well-preserved example of forts that were active during the Indian Wars era of 1860-1880.

Learn More along the Historic Santa Fe Trail

Native American sites

United States history cannot be told without the First Peoples that inhabited this vast continent. Sadly, we didn’t always cherish and protect the sacred Native American sites, or their cultures. This is all too apparent in the number of Native American massacre sites within the NPS. Fortunately though, there are still some important and informative National Historic Sites helping preserve some of the cultures.

Pecos National Historical Site

The Pecos National Historic Site was another stop on the Santa Fe Trail. This Pecos Pueblo village was a vibrant trading post and melting pot of cultures. Located along the Glorieta Pass through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains this village was visited by Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, Santa Fe Trail settlers and adventurers of every ilk.

I found the ruins on this site a fascinating juxtaposition between the early Pueblan culture and the Spanish mission culture. Ancient kivas and the Spanish mission church stand shoulder to shoulder.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

Rangers and Park Staff erect an historic Nez Perce shelter
NPS photo

Nez Perce National Historic Park is truly a unique site. The dramatic story of the Nez Perce is told through thirty-eight sites scattered across four states – Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.  These are people that continue to live on and honor their ancestral lands. There are natural landmarks that illustrate the Nez Perce legends, army forts, battlefields, historic trails and Visitor Centers in Spalding, ID and Wisdom, MT.

Hopewell Culture National Historic Park

NPS photo

There are sacred mounds systems found across the U.S. Along the Ohio River Valley the Hopewellian people gathered at these ceremonial earthworks for feasts, funerals and rites of passage. 

Battlefields and Military Parks

National Historic Parks battlefields

My father the history teacher, loved visiting Civil War sites. Every summer we packed into our Pontiac and drove hundreds of miles towards Civil War battlefields. A large number of the battlefields in America are from the Civil War. There are of course some from the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and many in the West during the Indian Wars of Western Expansion. And never forget the Alamo…


As the Yahoo flows into the Mississippi and the Mighty River bends to create a rich delta, the city of Vicksburg stands sentinel on shore. This lush fertile land was the site of a 47-day siege that turned the tide of the Civil War. We visited the Vicksburg National Military Park on a drippy dreary spring day. The weather added to the melancholy and tragic loss memorialized at this site. So many senseless young men were lost on these beautiful rolling hills.


Gettysburg National Historic Parks
Quiet Pennsylvania fields of Gettysburg
NPS photo

Gettysburg National Historic Park was my Dad’s all-time favorite. I have not returned since I was about 10 years old. But even that long ago, I remember the unbelievable chaos that took place on the quiet meadows of Pennsylvania. Just like Vicksburg, the futility of it was overwhelming. There remain important lessons to be learned from these battlefields of our nation divided.

Historic Buildings

National Historic Parks in Boston
Boston National Historic Park

Along with battlefields, my father took us to historic buildings and homes across the country. The NPS manages many historic Presidential buildings. Some are their birthplace, their homes, libraries etc. But there are many other fascinating buildings represented by National Historic Sites.

Thomas Edison National Historic Park

Andersonville Prison National Historic Site

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

National Historic Parks Hubbell Trading Post in New Mexico
Entrance to the still working Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, AZ

More National Historic Parks

Below is a list of some historic sites that I totally want to explore some day.

  • Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas
  • Golden Spike National Historic Park in Utah
  • Manhattan Project National Historic Park in New Mexico, Washington and Tennessee
  • Steamtown National Historic Site in Pennsylvania
  • New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park well of course, in Louisiana

Wow! This post is getting out of hand. I hope it has made the point that the National Park Service is a perfect place to learn about the history and culture of our country. In spite of this long post, I have just scratched the surface. Visit the NPS site and “find your park”!

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