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Get a history lesson during vacation

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Colorful homes and shops line Bluff Street in Dubuque, Iowa, the state’s oldest city.

Visit a National Heritage Area, specially designated places where historic, cultural and natural resources combine to form nationally important landscapes. There are currently 55 areas within the U.S. where communities have collaborated to share their resources.

You can find a list of all 55 National Heritage Areas at nps.gov/subjects/heritageareas.

Here are five to consider:

1. Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Area

In 1984, this region became the first National Heritage Area when President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a “new kind of national park” with a focus on preservation, conservation, recreation and economic development. Today, the area serves as an outdoor museum where visitors can explore the diverse stories of this living landscape, walking in the footsteps of Native Americans, French Explorers and Voyagers, canal workers and immigrants. Modern visitors can take a mule-pulled canal boat ride, hike or bike along the canal investigating historic towns along the way, explore state parks, fish on Maple Lake or kayak on the Illinois River.

Contact: iandmcanal.org

2. Great Basin National Heritage Area, Nevada and Utah

Visit this western region for a mix of history, wide open spaces, uncrowded trails and unobstructed views of the Milky Way when you camp under the stars. Learn about the Bristlecone pine, our planet’s oldest tree, which can live to be 5,000 years old. You’ll find them in Great Basin National Park. Sign up to be an engineer at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum where historic steam trains run throughout the year. Or stop by the Old Capitol Arts and Living History Festival in Fillmore, Utah, to learn about broom-making and blacksmithing, shop for handmade crafts and enjoy live music.

Contact: greatbasinheritage.org

3. Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area, Alaska

Home to some of the most influential crossroads of Alaska’s history, the region offers historic, cultural, scenic and outdoor recreational opportunities for those who venture to the Last Frontier. Explore mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciers and fjords in an area comprised of north-south road, rail and trail corridors from Bird to Seward, as well as Girdwood, Portage and Moose Pass. There’s also plenty to discover in Cooper Landing, Whittier and the wild waters of Prince William Sound. The area offers a wealth of wildlife watching, history tours, hiking, biking and fishing.

Contact: travelalaska.com; kmtacorridor.org

4. Silos & Smokestacks, Iowa

Promising Midwestern hospitality, this region encourages travelers to explore the state via suggested travel loops that include picnic spots, quaint restaurants, museums, galleries and landscapes. Learn about Iowa’s agricultural history and its influence on our food system. Wander the backroads amid corn and soybean fields to discover unique and unexpected places of historical, cultural and natural significance. Visit Dubuque, Iowa’s oldest city, to find out how lead mining, a gentleman’s farm and the mighty Mississippi River are all connected.

Contact: silosandsmokestacks.org

5. Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, Tenn.

This region endeavors to provide a comprehensive view and share the powerful stories that emerged from the Civil War era, including the freedom of emancipation and the enduring legacies of reconstruction. Consider following the Tennessee Civil War Trail where visitors can follow in the footsteps of the generals, soldiers, citizens and the enslaved during a challenging time in our nation’s history. The program includes more than 400 markers across the state, offering information and programs that illuminate the great campaigns as well as lesser-known points of historical interest.

Contact: civilwartrails.org; tncivilwar.org

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