Now that summer is in full swing, you’re probably making vacation plans. If a national park is on your travel agenda, we have a suggestion you won’t want to pass up: buy an America the Beautiful Pass.
This $80 annual pass entitles you and three guests to free access to more than 2,000 public sites managed by five federal agencies for an unlimited number of visits during the year. And since some national parks charge up to $20 per person or $35 per vehicle, these savings can add up. What’s more, the proceeds from the purchase of each pass are dedicated to improving and enhancing visitor experiences at these federal recreation sites.
Beyond the regular annual park pass, there are other options for certain groups:
Members of the military and their dependents qualify for a free annual Military Pass;
Gold Star families and Veterans can receive a free lifetime Military Pass;
Those who are ages 62 and up can purchase a $20 annual Senior Pass or an $80 lifetime Senior Pass;
Those who have a permanent disability can qualify for a free lifetime Access Pass, regardless of their age.
Children in 4th grade and their educators can take advantage of a free Every Kid Outdoors Annual 4th Grade Pass.
Those who volunteer for a federal recreation site for more than 250 hours are entitled to a one-year Volunteer Pass.
Where can you get one of these park passes? If your vacation is more than two weeks away, you’ll have time to order your passes online and have them mailed to you (there’s a $10 processing fee for online orders). But if you’re travelling sooner, you’ll want to buy your passes at one of more than 1,000 recreation sites managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To find one near you, go here.
Feel like hitting the road? Check out our suggestions for a few fun weekend adventures.
Trip 1- St. Louis
Day 1– Let’s start this trip with St. Louis’ own iconic Gateway Arch! Your first stop will be the museum at Gateway Arch National Park, where you will learn all about the history of St. Louis, westward expansion, and the unique architecture contest which resulted in the construction of the Arch. Next, catch a showing of the documentary film Monument to the Dream followed by a tram ride to the top of the Arch. At 630 feet high, you can’t beat those views! For lunch, you can grab a bite at the Arch Café, have a picnic on the beautiful park grounds, or go check out the restaurants downtown. (St. Louis is known for its diverse food offerings.) In the afternoon, take a riverboat tour of the Mighty Mississippi before you do some exploring of Downtown St. Louis. Catch a Cardinals baseball game, go for a stroll through Citygarden Sculpture Park, or take a tour of the National Blues Museum. For dinner, check out the restaurants and nightlife at Ballpark Village.
Day 2– Your main attraction for today will be Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in south St. Louis County. Check out the orientation film and take a self-guided tour of the park’s museum, housed in the historic 1872 horse stable that Grant himself designed. Then embark on a guided tour of White Haven, the home where Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, fell in love and made their life together. Next, head to brunch or lunch at The Barn restaurant before taking a tour of the Thomas Sappington House Museum next door. When you’re done, make sure to take a stroll through Father Dickson Cemetery, one of the first public cemeteries for African Americans in St. Louis. For dinner, take your pick from the many wonderful restaurants in nearby Crestwood, Kirkwood, or Webster Groves.
Day 3– On the final day of your weekend trip, you are going to head an hour south along the Mississippi to the beautiful Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park. This unique park is spread out across multiple buildings in the 18th century town of Ste. Genevieve. You can take ranger-led tours of the historic Green Tree Tavern and the Jean Baptiste Valle House. Next, you can wander through this picturesque small town and visit the multitude of shops, museums, and restaurants. For dinner, visit one of the six wineries on the Route du Vin Wine Trail.
Trip 2- Arkansas
Day 1– Every good trip begins with a little hope, and for this trip, we are taking that literally! Your first stop is the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in the quaint town of Hope, Arkansas. Stop by the park’s visitor center before taking a ranger-led tour of the home where our 42nd President was born. Next, head down the road for lunch at Tailgaters Burger Co. or one of the other local restaurants. In the afternoon, you can check out the Hope Visitor Center and Museum or the quirky Klipsch Museum of Audio History.
Day 2– About a 90-minute drive from Hope is the unique town of Hot Springs. One of the first “spa towns,” Hot Springs has a mix of historic architecture and natural beauty. Though Hot Springs National Park is not one of JNPA’s partner parks, we still don’t want you to miss this gem! Your first stop is the Fordyce Bathhouse Museum and Visitor Center to talk to a ranger and learn more about the history of the area. Next, you can check out historic Bathhouse Row or go for a hike on one of the park’s many miles of trails. For lunch, stop by the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery located in a national park! In the afternoon and evening, go for a soak at one of the bathhouses, take another hike, or check out Downtown Hot Springs.
Day 3– Continuing northeast for an hour, this trip ends at the capital of Arkansas, the bustling city of Little Rock. At Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, you will learn about the bravery of the Little Rock Nine and the rocky beginnings of the desegregation of America’s schools. Stop by the park’s visitor center first to view the exhibits and watch the interpretive film. Then, take a ranger-led tour of the school, which is still in use today. Ask the park rangers for a lunch recommendation before heading into the city to check out one of the many other cultural institutions. Don’t forget to visit the State Capitol Building, which offers free guided tours. Animal enthusiasts may want to see the Little Rock Zoo, or art aficionados may enjoy the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. For an outstanding ending to your Arkansas vacation, check out one of the many local restaurants for dinner.
Trip 3- Northern Minnesota
Day 1– At over 200,000 acres, Voyageurs National Park will take up all three days of this getaway. Your first stop will be one of the three visitor centers. The largest, Rainy Lake Visitor Center, offers exhibits, an orientation film about the park, and a bookstore (operated by you-know-who). Next, head out on one of the park’s many hiking trails to take in the scenery. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along the trail, but make sure to pack out what you pack in. End your day by getting settled into your lodgings. You could opt for the Kettle Falls Hotel or get a bit more adventurous: there are a variety of camping options at Voyageurs or you could even rent a houseboat!
Day 2– For your only full day at the park, take the opportunity to participate in a guided tour or two. In the Rainy Lake district, you can take a boat tour aboard the Voyageur, or in the Namakan district, you can voyage on the park’s newest tour boat, the Ne-zho-dain. If you are feeling extra adventurous, sign up for one of the park’s North Canoe Voyages, where you can paddle a replica of a north canoe while being immersed in an on-the-water living history lesson!
Day 3– For your final day at Voyageurs, take time to check out the Ellsworth Rock Gardens and the Harry Oveson Fish Camp, or do a bit of birdwatching. Then on your way out of the park, stop by one of the gateway communities, such as International Falls, to see the sights and restaurants they have to offer.
We congratulate our friends at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site for their recent award from the Organization of American Historians. At the OAH conference in California last month, the park was recognized for Excellence in National Park Service History because of the many public events and programs honoring last year’s 200th anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s birth.
Park staff members used the occasion of the Grant Bicentennial year as a “hook” to connect park visitors to many aspects of the former president’s life, both public and private. Rangers offered more than 100 in-person education programs, six special events (one with horses!), 26 off-site programs, and 16 virtual programs in 2022. They also created online exhibits, videos, and articles on the park’s website to reach audiences that couldn’t attend on-site programs.
Among the Grant-related events held at the park was an extravagant dinner recognizing benefit the Grant bicentennial, held in partnership with the Campbell House Museum, where Grant sometimes dined. The September event featured local chefs who offered historically inspired recipes from the 1800s. More than 400 guests attended the occasion, which JNPA was proud to host.
For a more complete list of the programs and events that earned the park its recent award, click here.
The two National Park Service sites in St. Louis are filled with exhibits, artifacts, and programs that tell important stories about our nation’s past – from the exploration of the American west to the lives of two U.S. presidents to the struggle for civil rights. The resources at these parks – Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site and Gateway Arch National Park – are available free to all visitors. But all too often, children from under-served communities aren’t able to take advantage of these experiences.
Now there’s a unique opportunity for middle school students to visit these sites this summer for a full week of specially-designed programs.
The Arch and U. S. Grant are offering free weeklong summer workshops at their sites for middle school students from African American communities. Daily transportation and lunch are included at no cost, as are normally fee-based experiences like the Arch tram ride and a Mississippi riverboat cruise.
The five-day workshops will be offered at both the Arch and at Grant during select weeks from June to August. Educators from both parks will lead the programs. Their aim is to familiarize students with under-told stories of Black Americans in St. Louis and throughout Missouri, including stories of slavery, resistance, and Reconstruction. The participants will learn by discovery instead of direct instruction, with guidance from park staff. Students will select a person or story they want to research, then will present their creative project on their chosen subject at the conclusion of the workshop.
If you are interested, now’s the time to apply! The parks are accepting applications for groups of approximately 15 students (ideally from schools or youth groups) through mid-April. Those interested in applying should contact Julie Northrip, Program Manager of Interpretation and Education at Ulysses S. Grant NHS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 314-842-1867 ext. 223. Please list in order your preference for which week your youth can attend.
July 31-Aug 4
JNPA is proud to support this unique program by underwriting the cost of the student lunches.
The institution of slavery afflicted most major U.S. cities, and St. Louis was no exception. Yet most modern-day St. Louisans aren’t aware of the many stories of heartbreak and hope that stemmed from the local slave trade. The historians at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site have created a new exhibit to address this knowledge gap.
Let’s take a peek at the exhibit.
What do Dred and Harriet Scott, Lucy Delaney, and Elizabeth Keckley have in common? They were all enslaved African Americans in St. Louis who were renowned for their battles for freedom. They also feature prominently in the new Slavery in St. Louis exhibit now on display at the visitor center at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.
A team of local historians and educators – led by park staff members Nick Sacco and Gregory Carr –carefully selected exhibit stories that focus not only on slavery but on freedom. Nine exhibit panels are featured along with artifacts from the park’s museum collections. These explore the personal stories of notable individuals, such as the Scotts, as well as Ulysses S. Grant’s relationship to slavery. Additionally, the exhibit examines what life was like for enslaved people living in St. Louis.
Contributors to this exhibit include:
Make sure to visit the park and check out Slavery in St. Louis soon, as this temporary exhibit will eventually hit the road to be displayed at other institutions.
We love President’s Day! Why? Because JNPA is the proud partner of three national parks that were created to honor a U.S. president. So as we approach President’s Day on Monday February 20, join us in honoring our national leaders, and find out how you can celebrate the upcoming holiday.
Though his name is no longer included in the park title, Thomas Jefferson is the reason behind the establishment of Gateway Arch National Park (formerly Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). The 90-acre park is a memorial to the third president’s role in exploring the American West. In addition to Eero Saarinen’s soaring Arch, the park features a museum that explores St. Louis’ vital role in U.S. history. It also includes the historic Old Courthouse, where the enslaved Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom in the mid-1800s. (The Courthouse is currently closed for renovations.)
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site commemorates the life and illustrious military career of our 18th president. White Haven, the restored home where Grant and his wife Julia lived in the 1850s, is one of five historic structures that visitors can tour. The site also features a museum housed in Grant’s former stable, as well as an introductory film on Grant’s life in the visitor center.
The boyhood home of President Bill Clinton is the featured attraction at President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope, Arkansas. The small but important park recently celebrated its 12th anniversary as a National Park Service site. Clinton spent the first four years of his life in the white frame house. Visitors can join a ranger-led tour of the home, which has been restored with furniture that evokes the 1940s, and view exhibits on the president’s life in the nearby visitor center.
Looking for a way to celebrate President’s Day? Here are two St. Louis-area events you might enjoy, as well as a few products we love:
At the Gateway Arch:
Washington’s Ball, Saturday Feb. 18 12:00-4:00
Although Gateway Arch National Park is less about George Washington than Thomas Jefferson, the park will celebrate the first president’s birthday with a mid-19th century ball. Visitors can learn old-fashioned dance steps from a historic dance expert, or just hang back and watch others twirl the afternoon away.
The ball will be held on the mezzanine inside the Arch visitor center. It is free and open to all ages. Historical clothing is not required to participate!
At Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site:
Museum Quest, Monday, February 20
Here’s a family-friendly way to observe President’s Day: take part in a follow-the-clues quest at the park’s museum. You’ll learn about Grant’s connection to other presidents, as well as some of accomplishments and events during his presidency. When you have completed the quest, you will receive a special commemorative gift.
The quest will run all day, and is fun for all ages.
Fans of bobbleheads can celebrate the holiday with one of our fun presidential bobbleheads – either Thomas Jefferson or Bill Clinton. Whichever you choose, be sure to ask the president a question and he’ll answer you with a nod, “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” Both bobbleheads are available at our park stores, or online.
Ulysses S. Grant lived in many places throughout his lifetime. Now that the year-long celebration of the Ulysses S. Grant Bicentennial has come to an end, we thought it was a perfect time to visit a range of historic sites around the country where you can trace the growth and development of our 18th president. From homes to memorials to museums, each of these 11 sites provides a unique perspective on the life and legacy of our 18th president.
The first stop on our virtual tour is Ulysses’ birthplace in Point Pleasant, a small town in southwest Ohio. He was born there on April 27, 1822, in a one-story frame home rented by his parents, Jesse and Hannah Grant. The family moved a year later to a larger brick home in nearby Georgetown, Ohio, and young Ulysses lived there until he left for West Point in 1839. In addition to his boyhood home, the town also features the small schoolhouse he attended, the tannery his father built, and other Grant-related sites.
When he was 17, Grant enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, thanks to his father’s encouragement. Visitors to West Point can see several memorials and statues dedicated to Grant when they book a tour at the academy.
After graduation, the young cadet was assigned to join the 4th U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. It was here that Grant’s friendships led him to visit White Haven, the sprawling plantation where he would meet his future wife, Julia Dent. Visitors to Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site can tour the White Haven home as well as the on-site museum devoted to Ulysses and Julia’s lives.
Other sites on our virtual tour trace the various military outposts and stations around the country where Grant served in the U.S. military, sometimes with Julia and his children, sometimes not. These include Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, WA – another National Park Service site.
Additional Grant home sites that are open for public tours are also part of our virtual tour. They include the Grant home in Galena, Ill., where his family relocated after his failed career as a farmer in White Haven, and the Grant Cottage in Wilton, NY where Grant died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885.
The final resting place of Ulysses and Julia Grant is also worthy of a visit. This is the General Grant National Memorial in New York City. This largest mausoleum in North America was dedicated in 1897, with more than a million people in attendance.
And finally, Grant scholars will want to stop in at the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library in Starkville, MI. Mississippi was the site of the Battle of Vicksburg, the general’s greatest victory in the Civil War. Visitors to the library can view exhibits as well as many of Grant’s papers, which are housed at Mississippi State University.
Let’s face it – many of us stress over holiday spending, whether it’s for gifts, airline tickets, party clothes, special foods, or even supplies for house guests. So it might be comforting to know that some of America’s most famous historical figures also faced money woes during the Christmas season. Take Ulysses S. Grant, who found himself in tough times at the holidays while living at White Haven.
In the mid-1850s, Grant was working hard to make a living as a farmer while he and his wife Julia were raising their young children at his in-laws’ 850-acre plantation near St. Louis. He intended to plant potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and other vegetables – enough “to keep a wagon going to market every day.” He was optimistic that the venture would be successful, writing his father that “Every day I like farming better and I do not doubt that money is to be made of it.”
However, unseasonably bad weather, poor health, and an unstable economy hampered Grant, and he was forced on several occasions to ask his father for a loan to purchase farm equipment and seeds. By late 1857 he became despondent and predicted financial ruin if his father didn’t come through (there is no evidence he ever received his much-needed loan).
To make matters worse, America was undergoing a severe recession known as the Panic of 1857 caused by both the declining international economy and the over-expansion of the U.S. economy in previous years. The Grant family was in a precarious financial state. Just two days before Christmas, Grant was forced to pawn off a valuable gold watch and chain. Even with this cash infusion, Ulysses, Julia, and their three children no doubt endured a bleak holiday season, as did many other American families that year.
Eventually, Grant made plans to sell his farming equipment and by the fall of 1858 he and his family moved to St. Louis to find a new line of work. Within a few years, the family moved to Galena, Illinois, and never again lived in Missouri.
Here at JNPA, we’re proud to serve as a non-profit partner of some of our nation’s most treasured public lands. So in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we wanted to take a moment to list some of the many things we’re thankful for.
Living history programs that bring the past alive for visitors of all ages.
Every schoolkid will tell you about the origins of Thanksgiving. How the Pilgrims in Massachusetts shared a late autumn feast with members of the Wampanoag nation after the colonists’ first harvest in 1621. How the celebration became an annual tradition commemorated throughout the growing nation. And how Thanksgiving Day was eventually declared a national holiday that Americans still honor around the family dinner table.
Sound like what you learned in school?
Well, as with so many accounts of our nation’s past, the Thanksgiving origin story is just a little more complex than that (and a lot more interesting). And thanks to the historians at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, you can learn all about it this weekend.
An annual day of thanks does indeed harken back to the very early days of our nation. But it wasn’t observed only in Massachusetts. In 1619, a group of English colonists celebrated a thanksgiving service and feast after their ship safely landed near Jamestown, Virginia, and they vowed to establish the tradition every year thereafter.
Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically in various American colonies throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation encouraging a nationwide day of thanks, though his declaration had more to do with a religious observance than an autumn feast. Governors of various states gradually embraced the idea, and the observance of Thanksgiving became more widespread – until the 1850s.
For whatever reason, the origin of Thanksgiving – and indeed the young nation – had become associated with New England, not Virginia. So as the national divide over slavery polarized the North and the South, southerners soured on anything associated with Massachusetts. They considered Thanksgiving a “Yankee holiday” and adorned with that region’s symbols and traditions: Pilgrims, turkey, pumpkins, and cranberries. So rather than celebrate the annual event, many Confederate sympathizers chose to fast on Thanksgiving, not feast.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday at the height of the Civil War in 1863, he was well aware of this controversy. In his proclamation he intentionally refrained from mentioning any references to the geographic origins of the feast, instead looking at the shared holiday as a way to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Union soldiers fighting in the war made the most of the new holiday as they paused to enjoy a special meal. Their Confederate counterparts, however, most likely abstained.
Today, as most Americans honor Thanksgiving with their own traditions, few probably realize the fraught history surrounding the holiday. If you’re interested in learning more about its origins, you’re invited to a special ranger talk at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Park historian Nick Sacco will share his insight on the history of Thanksgiving during the Civil War. The lecture is free, but reservations are required. Call (314) 842-1867 ext. 230 to sign up.
Meanwhile, warm Thanksgiving wishes from Jefferson National Parks Association!