Summertime means family vacation time! Here are some trip ideas to check off your bucket list. With both Church history sites and other fun things to see and do, you can be sure to plan a trip your whole family will love.
Discovering Church History in the Midwest
Road trip, anyone? If you’re planning to visit the Midwest, be sure to plan in some time to drive to these awesome places. The experience is definitely worth the trip!
Nauvoo, which translates to “the City Beautiful” in Hebrew, was established by the Saints when they fled from Missouri during the winter of 1838-1839. Though the land was originally quite swampy, approximately 16,000 Saints called it home until they fled again in 1846 because of religious persecution.
Today, a beautiful visitor’s center is located in the heart of town to provide maps and other resources for your visit. Many of the buildings, including Brigham Young’s home, the Nauvoo Printing Office, and the Webb Brothers’ Blacksmith Shop, are open to visitors and have short presentations or activities provided. Kids will love learning how candles and ropes were made and enjoy trying the gingerbread cookies at the Scovil Bakery. Visiting Carthage Jail, located a few miles outside of town, is also a great way to learn about and pay tribute to the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was martyred there in June of 1844. The Nauvoo Illinois Temple, rededicated in 2002, stands as a reminder of the faith and sacrifice of the early members of the Church.
The Nauvoo Temple. Image from lds.org.
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If you’ll be in town during the summer months, don’t miss the opportunity to see the free summer shows. From short vignettes with music performed out on the street, to variety shows performed on the banks of the Mississippi as the sun sets, these performances celebrate Nauvoo’s history in a way that makes it seem even more real. There’s also the British and Nauvoo Pageants, which enact the history of the settlement of Nauvoo and the sacrifices that members of the Church made as they emigrated from across the ocean. Young performing missionaries also sing in Sunday concerts at the visitor’s center, as well as perform plays with song and dance that are entertaining and touching for people of all ages.
Young performing missionaries singing in the street. Photo from lds.org.
Although Nauvoo’s population rivaled that of Chicago’s in the 1800s, Chicago stands today as one of the largest cities in the United States. Chicago has all the energy of an international city with the pleasantries of a Midwestern town and is about a four and a half hour drive from Nauvoo.
View from the Chicago River. Image from tripadvisor.com.
Though it’s not common knowledge, Chicago has some connections to Church history too. In 1842, Joseph Smith wrote to John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, in response to a query about the Church. Known as “The Wentworth Letter,” the information Joseph wrote outlined the fundamental doctrines of the gospel. The letter was never actually published in the newspaper, yet still holds significance to members of the Church today—we now know it as the Thirteen Articles of Faith.
Known for its architecture, the Chicago skyline is worth the view from several different perspectives. A trip to the top of Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower) is sure to bring some excitement. Architectural boat cruises along the Chicago River are also a delightful way to see the city. Navy Pier, located on the waterfront of Lake Michigan, has fun for the whole family, including the Chicago Children’s Museum and the world-renowned Ferris wheel. In addition to several large parks and outdoor theaters, Chicago also has an incredible Museum Campus, complete with Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and Shedd’s Aquarium. Be sure to plan some time to try deep dish pizza and some Garret’s Popcorn! You can also see the brand new six-story church building on the corner of Clark and Chestnut Street, dedicated fall of 2017, and the Chicago Illinois Temple, located about 20 miles north of the city.
Chicago's new LDS meetinghouse. Image from chicagoarchitecture.org.
Jackson County, Missouri was inhabited by the early Saints from 1831 to 1839, where they experienced great trials and turmoil because of persecution. The area is also significant to members of the Church because of the prophesies associated with this land that are yet to be fulfilled, including the building of the New Jerusalem and the dedication of several different temples. Independence is about a four and a half hour drive from Nauvoo, and the four main historic sites, including the Independence Visitor’s Center, Liberty Jail, Adam-ondi-ahman, and the Farr West Temple Site, are all within 90 miles of each other.
Adam-ondi-ahman was settled by the Saints for a short period of time in 1838. Originally called Spring Hill, Joseph Smith renamed the area to “Adam-ondi-ahman” after receiving revelation from the Lord (see D&C 116). Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated that this name means "the place or land of God where Adam dwelt." To get the most out of your visit to this sacred place, listen to Randall C. Bird’s audio book, Discovering Adam-ondi-ahman, as you drive.
Adam-ondi-ahman. Photo from lds.org.
Nearby is Liberty Jail, where Joseph Smith and five other men were held captive for five months during the winter of 1838-1839. The living conditions in Liberty Jail were brutal, and the prisoners suffered from illness, starvation, and bitter cold temperatures. Though this was perhaps the lowest time of Joseph’s life, it was also a time of sacred revelation. It was in Liberty Jail that the Lord revealed many sections of what we now read in the Doctrine and Covenants, including D&C 121-123. Visiting the Liberty Jail Historic Site is a wonderful opportunity to feel close to the Spirit of sacrifice and faith that Joseph and other faithful Saints demonstrated during this time. Sister missionaries guide tours about every thirty minutes, allowing visitors to see the actual place where Joseph and his companions were imprisoned.
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The view of Liberty Jail today, rebuilt to allow visitors to see both the interior and exterior of the building. Image from mormonhistoricsites.org.
While you're in the area, don't miss a chance to visit the Kansas City Missouri Temple, which was dedicated in May 2012.
Celebrating Beginnings in the Eastern States
Whether it’s learning to appreciate the creation of the Earth, the building of our nation, or the blessings of the restoration, seeing these monumental places in New York and Pennsylvania is sure to bring a great sense of gratitude and a whole lot of fun!
Visiting Palmyra is an incredible opportunity to experience the power of the restoration of the gospel. While the original Smith home is no longer standing, archaeologists recovered its location along with over 2,000 artifacts that date back to the time that the Smiths were living there. Today, tours of the Smith Farm guided by missionaries allow an inside look of an authentic replica of the building, along with a replica of the cooper shop where Joseph Smith hid the golden plates to protect them from mobs and others intending harm. Other sites close by include the Peter Whitmer Farm, the Book of Mormon Publication Site, and the Martin Harris Farm.
The Smith family farm. Image from lds.org.
A short walk away from the Smith Farm is the Sacred Grove, which consists of 10 acres of protected forestland. Few locations in the world can compare to the significance of this place; it was here in 1820 that 14-year-old Joseph experienced the First Vision. Overlooking the Sacred Grove is the Palmyra New York Temple, which was dedicated in 2000. Of this temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I regard this temple as perhaps the most significant, in one respect, in the entire Church. It was right here in the Sacred Grove where it all began.”
The Hill Cumorah is also an essential place to visit. This location marks the spot where the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to find the golden plates Moroni buried, which would later be translated as the Book of Mormon. The Hill Cumorah Pageant, which runs in July each year, features a cast of over 600 people in an unforgettable outdoor presentation of the story of the Book of Mormon.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant. Photo from lds.org.
One of nature’s most thrilling wonders, Niagara Falls is just short of a two-hour drive from Palmyra and is sure to bring a renewed sense of awe for God’s creations. On the border between New York and Canada, the Falls has cliffs that span almost 300 feet across and a gorge that drops 200 feet. On average, 6 million cubic feet of water plunge over the edge every sixty seconds.
The Niagara Falls State Park on the New York side provides the opportunity to see the Falls without needing a passport. Additionally, the park provides a discovery center, hiking trails, and other tour packages to enhance your experience. Visiting the Hurricane Deck also allows a closer view of the Falls. Just remember to bring a rain poncho—you’re sure to get wet!
Niagara Falls. Image from niagarafallsstatepark.com.
Though not as well-known as Nauvoo and Palmyra, Harmony, Pennsylvania is an important church history site that is definitely worth the trip. (If you are driving from Palmyra, it will take a little over four hours). Dedicated by President Russell M. Nelson in 2015, the Priesthood Restoration site provides great insight into the early days of the Restoration. Here you can see the farm along the Susquehanna River where Emma Hale Smith grew up, in addition to visiting the place where the Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
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After hearing of the golden plates and the miracles Joseph had experienced, Oliver Cowdery followed a prompting to travel across the state of New York to meet Joseph in Harmony. This was an answer to Joseph’s prayers, and Oliver began helping Joseph in the translation process of the Book of Mormon almost immediately. When Oliver and Joseph reached 3 Nephi, they were touched by the Spirit and had a strong desire to be baptized. They did not, however, know how the Lord wanted them to go about baptizing. The two retreated to a quiet grove just beyond the farm and prayed out loud to seek the Lord’s direction. In answer to their prayer, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them by the laying on of hands. That same day, both Joseph and Oliver were baptized in the Susquehanna River. These were the first of thousands to enter the waters of baptism in the latter days.
The Susquehanna River, near the place where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized. Photo from lds.org.
Today, a visitor’s center with guided missionary tours and a short film can help you experience the Priesthood Restoration Site to the fullest. The dedicated grounds also include a quiet trail that leads from the visitor’s center to a shaded grove of Maples near the spot where Joseph and Oliver prayed.
Celebrate the history of the American Revolution and the birth of our nation by visiting Philadelphia, located about five hours away from Palmyra and Harmony. In the heart of the city is Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. In a sense, this too is a sacred place, for it was here that many of the freedoms we have today were penned. While entrance to Independence Hall is admitted by tour only, tickets for tours are free, with the exception of a small handling fee if tickets are reserved in advance.
Independence Hall. Image from visitphilly.com.
Another opportunity to experience the spirit of the American Revolution can be found at the Betsy Ross House. It was Betsy Ross who, in 1776, stitched the first stars and stripes of the American flag. Located in Philadelphia’s historic district, the Betsy Ross House is a great mix of history and fun. Guided audio tours designed for both children and adults are available as you make your way through the house. Kids will also love meeting Betsy Ross herself in her upholstery room, where they can ask questions and learn more in an engaging, interactive experience.
The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple is also conveniently located right downtown. Dedicated by President Henry B. Eyring in 2016, the temple and its beautiful neoclassical architecture are absolutely stunning.
Of course, a trip to Philadelphia would not be complete without trying some Philly cheesesteak! Other fun vacation ideas include exploring the riverfront to see Boathouse Row, touring the museums on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and snapping some photos in front of Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” statue.
Philadelphia's famous statue by Robert Indiana. Photo from centercityteam.com.
Diving Into Nature, Culture, and History in Hawaii
Taking a trip to Hawaii is a great way to experience history and culture combined with tropical bliss. With these places on your list, it’s sure to be a dream vacation never to be forgotten.
Polynesian Cultural Center
In order to experience what island culture is really like, visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must. Located on the North Shore of Oahu, the PCC allows you to get away from the crowds and commercialism of the city and immerse yourself in the lifestyles of eight different cultures.
The Polynesian Cultural Center. Photo from LDS Daily.
The PCC is not only an incredible tourist attraction; it is also a fulfillment of prophetic prophesy. In 1955, when President David O. McKay offered the dedicatory prayer for the Church College of Hawaii (now known as BYU-Hawaii), he prayed that “this college, and the temple, and the town of Laie may become a missionary factor, influencing not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of people who will come seeking to know what this town and its significance are." In 1962, he authorized construction of the PCC, which has now been open for over 50 years.
What makes the PCC stand out above anything else you’ve experienced is its incredible authenticity. Its 42 acres consist of eight villages representing Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Marquesas, Tonga, Tahiti, and Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island). Many of the guides and performers are actually from the islands they represent. Highlights of the PCC include cultural presentations at each village, luaus with authentic food and entertainment, and a night show with fire, music, and dance.
Dancers performing at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Image from Mormon Newsroom.
Located nearby is the Laie Hawaii Temple, which is the fifth operating temple dedicated in this dispensation. While on the North shore, keep in mind that beaches in this area are often more quiet than the ones in Honolulu, so that is another thing to consider as your family plans beach and relaxation time.
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Honor those who heroically lost their lives in World War II by visiting Pearl Harbor, located just outside the city of Honolulu. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the US Naval Base in a surprise attack, killing over 2,400 Americans and injuring 1,000 more. It was this tragic bombing that sent the United States into active involvement in World War II.
The USS Arizona was bombed within the first seven minutes of the attack. Today, it is commemorated beautifully with a white memorial that floats above its sunken remains. Visitors can walk out onto the memorial deck to see the sunken ship sitting at the bottom of the harbor. While very different from Church history sites, a very reverent and sacred feeling abides here.
The Pearl Harbor Memorial. Photo from travel.aarp.org.
Additionally, visitors can tour the USS Missouri, a WWII fleet ship that has been refinished and secured in Pearl Harbor for historical purposes. Guided audio tours provide visitors of all ages to explore the ship from top to bottom. You can even walk the deck where General MacArthur received the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.
Hawaii's State and National Parks
A trip to Hawaii would not be complete without fully taking in the tropical beauty of the islands. With volcano hikes, breathtaking sunsets, and beautiful beaches, Hawaii’s national and state parks have so much to offer.
Haleakala National Park. Image from national-park.com.
Haleakala National Park in Maui provides the perfect opportunity to explore and hike around. This park is home to the Haleakala Crater, an inactive volcano that can be seen from almost anywhere on the island of Maui. Guided hikes or horseback tours with nature experts can be arranged to provide more insight and information as you explore. Additionally, campgrounds and cabins are available, which can be a refuge from the tourist-heavy resorts. A nearby visitor’s center also has a lookout point perfect for watching the sunrise.
The Diamond State Monument in Oahu is a great family friendly hike. Though the trail is steep, it is less than a mile to the summit and has stairs with railings at the steepest part. While it is often crowded, the view at the top is beautiful, with several different lookout points perfect for gazing across the island and taking pictures.
Hanauma Bay. Photo from honolulu.gov.
Finally, if snorkeling is on your bucket list, Hanauma Bay State Park is a must! Located on the main island, Hanauma Bay was formed within a volcanic cone and is home to thousands of fish and other reef wildlife. Officially named a marine life conservation area in 1967, Hanauma Bay now has a marine education center that provides visitors the opportunity to learn about the conservation of these beautiful fish and their natural habitat. The park offers snorkeling gear for both experienced snorkelers and first-timers. After seeing these colorful fish firsthand, it’s easy to see why Hanauma Bay was voted as Hawaii’s best beach in 2016.