What better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day than by visiting a national park?
Every year on the third Monday in January, the National Park Service honors the legacy of one of our nation’s greatest heroes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In honor of the 1929 birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the parks open free for visitors and welcome volunteers. Some parks plan special events to reflect and remember the events of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.
Today we assembled a list of five national parks that celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King. Whether you visit on the Martin Luther King’s birthday or visit during your next family vacation, these sites all provide a glimpse into the life and impact of Dr. King’s work:
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
Looking for the best place to start your Martin Luther King Jr. Day national park journey?
Head back to Atlanta, Georgia where his life began. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park is one of the city’s top travel destinations. Designated in 1980, the site covers 22.4-acres and 35 different properties that were influential in the birth, and upbringing of one of America’s most influential historical figures.
While at the park, visitors can tour the home where Dr. King was born, visit the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and Dr. And Mrs. King’s gravesite. The International World Peace Rose Garden, one of only five planted in the world is another stopping point worth visiting during your trip.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Located in the National Mall and Memorial Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was the 395th park added to the National Park Service in 2011. The four-acre park is located at 1964 Independence Avenue SW in Washington D.C., a nod to Dr. King’s work in shaping the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Most prominent in the park is the Stone of Hope, a 30-foot high granite statue of Dr. King that overlooks the Tidal Basin and cherry trees that bloom during the anniversary of the assassination that ultimately claimed Dr. King’s life.
As you depart the MLK Memorial on the National Mall, the next stop should be the nearby Lincoln Memorial. An inscription eighteen steps from the top of the Lincoln Memorial marks the location that Dr. King delivered his foundational “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963. The marker was placed in 2003, allowing visitors to look out across the Mall and reflect on the enormous impact of one man’s legacy.
Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
It wouldn’t be a list of significant MLK sites without mentioning Alabama’s Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail. The 54-mile route preserves the route where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched to freedom with civil rights activists in 1965. On March 21 the Selma march began after two previous attempts, including one that erupted into what’s now known as “Bloody Sunday.” Nearly 25,000 people arrived in Montgomery on March 25, 1965.
Today visitors to the National Historic Trail can start by crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and visit the nearby Selma Interpretive Center for exhibits on Dr. King’s life, legacy, and the Selma march. Also plan to stop at the halfway point between Selma and Montgomery, marked by the Lowndes Interpretive Center.
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Also in Alabama, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is another national park unit with direct ties to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life and legacy. Established in 2017 by President Obama, the site preserves four city block central to the civil rights movement in Birmingham.
While key sites like the A.G. Gaston Motel—where Dr. King and others headquartered during the 1963 Birmingham campaign—are still under renovation and restoration by the National Park Service, visitors can walk the neighborhood that remained a force of change throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Other key areas to visit in the park central to Dr. King’s work: The 16th Street Baptist Church, 4th Avenue Historic District Sites, & the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Two Other Ways to Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the National Parks
If visiting one of the five national parks above isn’t an option for your MLK celebration, there are two other ways you might consider to honor the life of Dr. King.
Visit a Park for Free
MLK Day is one of the days the National Park Service selects to waive entrance fees. For the 120+ national park units that charge an entrance fee, MLK Day is totally free. It’s a great chance to experience your local national park unit or bring someone new to their first national park.
To find out about the other free entrance days, visit our list of fee-free days: How to Visit a National Park for Free in 2020.
Volunteer in a National Park
Many people choose to honor the legacy of Dr. King by volunteering on MLK Day. The National Park Service designates projects around the United States for what has become a national day of community service. Contact your local national park to find a volunteer opportunity or visit our post on “How to Volunteer in a National Park.”
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