Although it’s a relatively young country, America’s colorful history covers a lot of ground. From coast to coast and border to border, there are thousands of museums, monuments and parks paying homage to the country’s pioneers—soldiers, explorers, inventors and those whose contributions left a lasting legacy. In case your upcoming travel plans involve a fun history lesson, here are a handful of standout KOA campgrounds located less than a 30-minute drive from famous sites.
The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most pivotal points on our nation’s timeline. It was the turning point of the Civil War—marking the end of slavery in the North, and ultimately, leading up to the Union’s victory. Less than 10 miles from where President Lincoln gave his famous, “Four score and seven years ago” speech in 1863, travelers find the 2003 KOA Campground of the Year. The Gettysburg / Battlefield KOA Holiday is the ideal base camp for exploring nearby Gettysburg Military National Park. In fact, during the summer, battlefield bus tours depart daily from the campground. The campground also hosts Civil War storytellers who know all the best ghost stories. (But don’t worry, the campground isn’t haunted.)
Pluto is famous for its identity crisis. Before being demoted to dwarf planet status in 2006, we all learned of it as one of the nine planets in our solar system. In 1930, an astronomer working at the Lowell Observatory made headlines when he discovered Pluto. Today, travelers can visit the observatory for tours and evening telescope viewings and then continue seven miles east on Historic Route 66 where they’ll arrive at the Flagstaff KOA. Although there is plenty of fun to be had at the campground—banana bike rentals, bounce house, scavenger hunts and mini golf—another area attraction is the Aquaplex Indoor Water Park, a short 5-minute drive away.
In 1804, St. Louis was a far cry from the bustling city it is today. The biggest news at the time was the gossip surrounding the Corps of Discovery camped nearby. Under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the expedition set off from St. Louis to explore thousands of miles no white man had ever laid eyes on. A far cry from the explorers’ rustic camp, the St. Louis West / Historic Route 66 KOA offers campers a comfortable and fun experience in America’s Gateway to the West. Between the barrel train rides, heated outdoor pool, lawn games and gold mining simulation, the word “bored” is obsolete at this creek-side campground.
An American men’s hockey victory over the Soviets couldn’t have come at a better time. The year was 1980 and the Cold War was raging. The location was upstate New York. (Lake Placid, a charming ski town had hosted the Winter Olympics once before, in 1932.) Known as the “miracle on ice” this famous game helped put Lake Placid on the map. Today, the town is home to Olympic training centers and travelers come from around the world to participate in winter and water sports while watching athletes train. Many who want the Adirondack camping experience stay at the Lake Placid / Whiteface Mtn. KOA Holiday, open year round.
“Remember the Alamo!” Even if you don’t know a lot about the event this phrase refers to, chances are you’ve heard it said with gusto. Had it not been for this famous battle at a San Antonio mission in 1836, Texas may have never won its independence from Mexico. Although the outnumbered Texans lost, the Alamo represented their unrelenting desire to be free and inspired them to keep fighting. They won their independence a year later. Today, travelers can spend the morning learning about the siege on the Alamo Battlefield Tour in downtown San Antonio and then spend the afternoon cooling off in the new pool at the San Antonio KOA. Open year round, this campground is a short drive from popular area attractions including Sea World, Six Flags and the San Antonio Zoo.
Of course Massachusetts is famous for the pilgrims, Boston Tea Party and the Kennedys, but did you know it’s also the birthplace of the chocolate chip cookie? In 1930, Ruth Wakefield, the owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, was baking chocolate cookies when she accidentally discovered a concoction that would eventually become one of the most beloved snacks in the States. These days, campers at the Boston / Cape Cod KOA Holiday, a 15-minute drive south of Whitman, can experiment with chocolate chip cookie s’mores at their sites. The campground’s Top Your Own Sundae parties are also popular among travelers with serious sweet teeth.
California’s first historical claim to fame isn’t Hollywood or Disneyland. It’s the Gold Rush. Spurred by the 1848 discovery of gold nuggets near Coloma this seven-year-stretch saw men from as far away as France and China pouring into the Sierra Nevada in search of the mother lode. The population of California grew exponentially and the U.S. government saw the territory’s value, granting it statehood in 1850. Located 40 miles east of Sacramento and 14 miles south of Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, the Placerville KOA is the perfect place to camp and explore California’s Gold Country.
The frontier for the new frontier is Florida’s Space Coast. It was here, in 1961, that the U.S. sent the first American astronaut into space. In 1962, John Glenn boarded the Friendship 7 and launched from Cape Canaveral. He would soon become the first American to orbit the Earth. Today, visitors to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and the Astronaut Hall of Fame can meet an astronaut, experience a shuttle simulator and even witness a historic launch if the timing is right. Travelers who want to explore the Space Coast while camping should consider launching from a cabin or site at Titusville / Kennedy Space Center KOA. This year-round campground is located a 20-minute drive west of Cape Canaveral.
Katie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @KJACK0526.