14 Summer Learning Adventures in National Parks

Summer learning in national parks

Everglades National Park offers excellent learning opportunities in natural surroundings. National Park Service photo.

School may be out for the summer, but there are plenty of ways to explore science, history, and the arts—with or without kids—in some of America’s best classrooms, our national parks.

  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland

    1. Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland

    Explore Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, the 18th century star-shaped fort where Americans repelled the British invasion during the War of 1812. The fort is also the birthplace of our national anthem, as the battle inspired Francis Scott Key to author the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This summer is an especially exciting time to visit, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore. Bicentennial events are happening all summer long, culminating with the “Star-Spangled Spectacular” in September, when visitors can explore tall ships and see a kind of “rockets’ red glare” during a brilliant fireworks display. Photo © Kristen Brengel/NPCA.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah

    2. Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah

    Dinosaurs once roamed Colorado and Utah’s canyons, deserts, and mountains; now, centuries later, their remains are still embedded in the rocks. People of all ages can enjoy exploring the petroglyphs from early cultures and the fossils of giant creatures. During the summer, young visitors can be sworn in as junior rangers and presented with a badge that allows them to join a number of ranger-led activities. National Park Service photo.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Thomas Edison National Historical Park, New Jersey

    3. Thomas Edison National Historical Park, New Jersey

    Step back in time and explore famous inventor Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, packed with fascinating inventions, historic technology, and scientific research. Many of Edison’s 1,093 patented inventions are on display, including the electric light bulb, phonograph, and the first motion picture production studio. The “Wizard of Menlo Park’s” lab is frozen in time with tables and workbenches filled with beakers, test tubes, and experiments. Edison’s lab coat still remains draped over his desk chair—waiting for the next great inventor to come learn and find inspiration. National Park Service photo.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Everglades National Park, Florida

    4. Everglades National Park, Florida

    Florida’s subtropical wilderness offers opportunities for camping, hiking, boating, and snorkeling through the park’s unparalleled natural surroundings. Come face to face with some of the most rare and endangered species in the Unites States such as the West Indian manatee, American crocodile, and Loggerhead sea turtle. Summer learning programs are offered at three different park locations, including Nature’s Notebook Boat Cruises to identify wildlife species, estuary explorations, and introductory lessons on saltwater fishing. National Park Service photo.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Brown V. Board of Education National Historical Site, Kansas

    5. Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site, Kansas

    This landmark site commemorates the hard-fought struggle to integrate American schools and the hurdles civil rights activists faced before, during, and after the historic Supreme Court decision. Housed in the first school desegregated through the ruling, the museum incorporates videos and interactive exhibits on the history of racial segregation in America and the destructive legacy of Jim Crow. A walk through the “Hall of Courage” recreates the experience of the first African Americans attending newly integrated schools. Visitors are encouraged not only to absorb the difficult history, but also to reflect on it in a space provided for art and meditation. National Park Service photo.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Wright Brothers National Monument, North Carolina

    6. Wright Brothers National Monument , North Carolina

    When visiting the beautiful beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spend a day at Kitty Hawk, where Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the first successful airplane flight in 1903 and built the foundation of modern aviation. At Wright Brothers National Monument, you can see replicas of early flying machines and the engine block of the first historic plane. Young visitors can partake in “Kite Flight” to watch kite-building demonstrations, make their own homemade kites, and test them in the winds that made Wilbur and Orville famous. National Park Service photo.
  • 14 Summer Learning Experiences > > Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

    7. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

    The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the most-studied geological landscapes in the world. The canyon cuts through three of the four eras of geologic time and supports a wide variety of wildlife and rare ecosystems. Visitors can hike extensive trails and raft the majestic Colorado River. During the summer, adventurers can join a daily ranger-led guided hike or enroll in the Grand Canyon Field Institute for more challenging excursions. Photo © Pinwheels/Dreamstime.
  • Watercolor class at the North Cascade Institute, Washington.

    8. North Cascades National Park, Washington

    North Cascades National Park protects some of the wildest and most biodiverse lands in the Pacific Northwest. Taking a class at the North Cascades Institute can help you deepen your appreciation for these lands--whether you opt to paint the breathtaking mountains around you, attend an evening program by an environmental author or photographer, or go wildlife-watching with a scientist as your guide. Programs for adults, youth, and families are available. Photo © Scott Kirkwood/NPCA.
  • 9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

    A short distance from the cities of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s deep forests and rolling hills provide solitude in the great outdoors. Visitors can learn about historic methods of transportation by hiking along the former towpath for the Ohio & Erie Canal or by hopping on a train and taking an excursion through the park on a scenic railroad tour. All summer long, the “Get Up, Get Out & Go!” program is providing youth with games, fitness challenges, and wildlife tours. National Park Service photo.
  • The Statue of Liberty National Monument. Photo © Narvikk/iStockphoto.

    10. Statue of Liberty National Monument

    Overlooking New York Harbor, “Lady Liberty” is a symbol of freedom and refuge, and was the first sight of America for many U.S. immigrants arriving by boat. Young visitors can travel to Liberty Island by ferry from either New Jersey or New York and learn about its history and significance. Nearby Ellis Island allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of immigrants 100 years ago and explore family heritage in the American Family Immigration History Center. Photo © Narvikk/iStockphoto.
  • 11. Yosemite National Park, California

    Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, deep valleys, granite peaks, and ancient giant sequoias. Visitors can also learn about Native American cultures and the American experience on the early frontier. The Yosemite Museum showcases the cultural history of the Miwok and Paiute Native Americans who once inhabited Yosemite. Also open May through September is the Happy Isles Nature Center, a family-oriented center focused on natural history and wildlife with interactive displays and short trails featuring the park’s diverse habitats. National Park Service photo.
  • 12. Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusetts

    Young visitors to Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts can learn about the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago and put themselves in the shoes of “Mill Girls”— young women who left their homes on New England farms in the early 19th century for jobs in the booming textile industry. During the summer, the park hosts fun intergenerational activities each weekend, including an eco-film series, storytelling workshops, and photography exhibits. Young visitors can also enroll in summer camp courses at the Tsongas Industrial History Center to enjoy nature hikes, canoeing, and camping. National Park Service photo.
  • 13. Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

    Visitors to Montezuma Castle can climb 20 stories to see the cliff dwellings of the Sinagua culture constructed 900 years ago. Remarkably, this ancient architecture still clings tightly to the limestone rock, and visitors who make the climb will enjoy wondrous desert views. During the summer, a youth program called the “Green Rangers” provides hands-on restoration projects for kids ages 9 to 12 and teaches traditional gardening, wildlife identification, and seed collecting skills. National Park Service photo.
  • 14. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

    The small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, witnessed a fierce battle that represented the turning point of the Civil War. Each year, from July 4-6, thousands of visitors once again wear blue and grey to bring history to life through a large re-enactment commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg. Young visitors can enlist in the army and see what it was like to serve during the Civil War. National Park Service photo.

Each month, NPCA puts together a slideshow exploring our National Park System. To get these features delivered to your inbox, sign up for Park Lines, NPCA’s newsletter.

About the Author

NPCA Cheapeake Field Representative Ed Stierli

Ed is the Chesapeake field representative for the Mid-Atlantic region and does grassroots outreach to connect communities with national parks. Passionate about connecting youth with the outdoors and conservation, he also leads the “Freedom to Float” campaign and is an active hiker and paddler. Find him on Twitter at @edstierli.