Living, Breathing History

Hollis BoweNPF Blog
A woman an a boy wearing historical clothes in front of a house at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park —NPS

A Federal soldier. A 1920s Yard Worker. A Cherokee War Leader. A Sufragette. A Cowboy. A Nurse.

What do these people have in common? All of them live in our national parks.

The National Park System is a rich trove of natural wonders, historic sites, and cultural treasures that together encapsulate the essence and history of America. Collectively, these resources educate us about the forces that shaped our past and about the aspirations and actions that led us to today.

But history isn’t just dates, events, and places — it’s about people, too. Our nation’s history is not cut from a single piece of cloth but rather a tapestry woven from millions of stories. For nearly a century, national parks have been America’s storyteller, giving voice to the men and women of our past. Today, a number of parks even allow you to stand face to face with them!

Although parks are often associated with historical reenactments, living history programs are more engaging, personal, and fun way to visit a national park. The program provides first-person interpretation of the past to create dynamic, authentic experiences.

No two living history programs in the National Park System are the same and each character adds a new perspective. With people from every era, geographic region, profession, and ethnicity represented, everyone can find a story that makes them feel a connection to parks.

Here are some suggested programs to get you started!

Take in a weapons demonstration and explore the fortress at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument where you can learn about the intricate history and culture of the park. 

Take a Guided tour of the Steamtown National Historic Site, which has four program options:  a depression-era hobo, a World War II Military Policeman protecting the vital transportation network, a Mail Clerk serving on a Railway Post Office car, and a 1920s Yard Worker.

Rediscover the stories of the American Revolution by joining guided tours about the Massachusetts militia with costumed park rangers, or by attending a presentation by The Guild of Historic Interpreters at Minute Man National Historical Park.

Experience life on a homestead at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve where you can help cowboys churn butter, build outposts, quilt, and many other chores needed to keep the ranch in working order.

Mingle with the 1865 inhabitants surrounding Appomattox Court House National Historic Park for a glimpse of town life before one meeting immortalized its name.

Be sure to tell us who you meet in your park! Make sure to share your experiences by capturing photos and using the hashtag #FindYourPark.

Start a Conversation

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.