Educational Family Road Trips
December 18, 2019
A holiday break is the perfect time to load your family into the car and get to know a new part of the country. Here are trip itineraries that will get the whole family learning together.
School breaks are great times to create experiential learning opportunities for your kids. There are dozens of destinations that offer families a chance to discover new insights while spending quality time together.
Load your family into the car, enjoy some snacks, sing songs, and make your way through these cities to bring classroom lessons to life.
You can even keep the kids learning on the road with these fun car-trip tips!
A War-Torn Country: Gettysburg to Richmond
Preservationists coined the 175 miles that run along the Old Carolina Road/Route 15 as the “Journey through Hallowed Ground." Take your family through locations central to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. You won’t want to miss these highlights:
# Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg
The numbers are hard to imagine; 51,000 casualties in three days over the summer of 1863. Your child will be walking through the same wild grass and listening to the same buzz of insects that contemporaries would have experienced a century and a half ago. You and your family can explore the area as you take self-guided audio tours, go hiking, or bike through the battlefield.
# Frederick, MD: Museum of Civil War Medicine
During the Civil War, the medical community began to transition from antiquated practices like blood-letting to more modern wound-care procedures. More than 3,000 artifacts will not only teach your children about the challenges faced by wounded soldiers, but also encourage them to appreciate how far medicine has come. Check out the calendar of events before planning your visit. You don’t want to miss out on presentations from Civil War scholars or fascinating programs, such as exploring the museum by candlelight.
# Harpers Ferry, WV: Harpers Ferry
Traveling 20 miles southwest of Frederick will lead you to the site of abolitionist John Brown's famous 1859 rebellion. The park is also home to Storer College, which educated former slaves and was central to the movement to end segregation. Additionally, Harpers Ferry was the site at which Lewis and Clark picked up supplies before their long expedition decades earlier.
# Leesburg, VA: Ball’s Bluff Battlefield
The Battle of Ball’s Bluff took place here in 1861. After this violent confrontation, bodies from Union soldiers floated down the Potomac River and foreshadowed the devastation that would continue throughout the war.
Once you’re in Leesburg, make sure to visit the home of General George C. Marshall, the man responsible for charting an economic recovery plan for Western Europe to help the region recover from the devastation of World War II.
# Charlottesville, VA: Monticello
Monticello, the home designed and built by Thomas Jefferson, will feel vaguely familiar, since its image adorns the back of every nickel. An architectural beauty, Jefferson’s house is also the site of various exhibitions and tours. For example, the “Slavery at Monticello" tour, which occurs daily from April–October, focuses on the enslaved people who lived and worked on the Monticello plantation.
# Richmond, VA: Museum of the Confederacy
As the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond played a central role in the Civil War. The Museum of the Confederacy is the perfect spot to tie together all the lessons learned on the road trip. Its exhibitions trace the development of the war and display artifacts from key historical actors. Next door is the White House of the Confederacy — actually a pale shade of grey — where your children can see where Jefferson Davis’s five kids lived from 1861 to 1865.
For some fresh air, visit the Tredegar Iron Works, an indoor-outdoor museum on the James River that showcases the primary iron production facility for the Confederacy. It was the first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African-American perspectives. And if you need a break from history, the Science Museum of Virginia and Children’s Museum are highly-rated, high-fun spots for children to learn.
O Say Canyon See: From Zion Park to the Grand Canyon
In his 2009 documentary series, Ken Burns argued that the national parks are America’s best idea. Marveling at nature’s masterpieces will give your family a chance to learn more about geology and biology. You won’t want to miss these highlights:
# Zion National Park, UT
Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah offers a geologic wonderland, along with more than 1,000 species of plants and a diverse wildlife. The soft pinks and reds of Zion Canyon — carved from Navajo sandstone by millions of years of flowing water — contrast breathtakingly with the sharp, blue sky. At the park’s museum, you can explore more than 290,000 objects, including local flora at the plant herberium and artifacts dating back to prehistoric settlements.
# Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
About an hour and a half from Zion, you’ll find hoodoos — natural totem-poles — that have stood guard at Bryce Canyon for millions of years. Bryce Canyon is also the perfect place to give your child an astronomy lesson beneath the starlit sky. The park gives its guests the opportunity to stargaze through telescopes, participate in moonlit guided tours, and ride horses through the canyon.
# Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
When Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon a national monument, he urged all: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, and for all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American...should see."
Every year, five million visitors take Roosevelt’s plea to heart as they experience nature’s masterpiece. Whether you decide to hike, bike, or ride a mule through the canyon, you and your children can relish in knowing that the rocks you touch are more than 1.8 billion years old.
Retracing the Quest for Justice: A Civil Rights Road Trip From Atlanta to Memphis
Martin Luther King famously dreamed that one day on the red hills of Georgia, “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood." Take a trip from these very hills through the heart of America to begin a journey that explores the impact of the Civil Rights movement. You won’t want to miss these highlights:
# Atlanta, GA: Dr. King’s Birthplace
The seeds of the Civil Rights Movement were planted in Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, the area where black businesses were forced to relocate after the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Jr. was born and raised on this street, and Dr. King’s birthplace is now a national historic site. Here, you’ll be able to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King preached and held rallies. The church is also the home of Dr. and Mrs. King’s tombs.
If you are stopping in Atlanta, you may also want to visit the recently-opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The center’s goal is to draw comparisons between the Civil Rights Movement and current human rights battles that are being waged around the world.
# Tuskegee, AL: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
Celebrated in the 2012 movie “Red Tails," the Tuskegee Airmen — the first African-American military pilots — trained at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. The bravery of these 996 pilots led to the integration of the U.S. Army after World War II and became an inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement.
You can also visit the Tuskegee Institute, which was established by Booker T. Washington and is the only black college in the U.S. to be registered as a national historic site.
# Selma and Montgomery, AL: The Selma to Montgomery National Voting Rights Trail
In March 1965, a march from Selma to Montgomery, along U.S. Highway 80, was organized to protest the killing Jimmie Lee Jackson, a nonviolent demonstrator murdered by an Alabama state trooper. Visit Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, where the march began. It protest was short-lived, though; the 600 protesters only walked six blocks before they were met by law enforcement officials sent by Alabama governor George Wallace.
At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the protesters were brutally beaten. The images from this “Bloody Sunday" shocked the nation. Two weeks later, 3,200 protestors again began to march, this time protected by a court order. When the marchers arrived in Montgomery four days later, they represented a resolute force for change, 25,000 people strong.
In Montgomery, you can read Dr. King’s remarks at the endpoint of the march. As you do, you can feel the power of his pronouncement that “the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience." He concluded: “And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.’’
# Birmingham, AL: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The institute houses an interactive exhibit that covers segregation, the Civil Rights Movement’s struggles and milestones, and its connection to current events. Through videos, pictures, and oral history collections, visitors can learn more about the important legacy of the ongoing fight for equal rights. Birmingham itself is an important location for the history of Civil Rights. Dr. King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail" here, and the institute houses the door of the cell where he was imprisoned.
# Memphis, TN: National Civil Rights Museum
Established at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, this museum has as its mission “to share the culture and lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement and explore how this significant era continues to shape equality and freedom globally." Get your children engaged with these important topics as you explore the museum’s collections together.
Want to explore a few more destinations over the break? Check out the supplement to this guide, which covers educational vacations for the whole family.