11 American Castles You Can Visit

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The United States may not have royalty, but that doesn't mean we're above being kings and queens of our own domains. While none on this list were constructed to ward off enemies nor may ever have had knights feast in their halls, they are nonetheless grand, regal, and America's own.

1. GREY TOWERS CASTLE // GLENSIDE, PENNSYLVANIA

PeetlesNumber1, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Having made a mint in the sugar refining industry, William Welsh Harrison contracted ambitious 23-year-old architect Horace Trumbauer to build him a castle. In 1893, Harrison handed over a fortune so Trumbauer could transform his fire-damaged home into a towering homage to the Alnwick Castle of Northumberland, England. The French Renaissance inspired its interior ornamental plaster panels and ornately hand-carved woodwork, made by local craftsmen. Other décor was inspired by the luxury of Louis XV. Massive halls were draped in elaborate tapestries and murals. All these touches made for a home that was as unique as it was astounding.

Upon completion in 1898, Grey Tower Castle was one of the biggest homes in America, boasting 40 rooms. Harrison lived there happily until his death in 1927. Two years later, Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College) purchased the opulent home, which is used for freshman dorms, lectures, and hosting special events. 

2. HAMMOND CASTLE // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

Dale E. Martin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Known as "The Father of Remote Control," John Hays Hammond, Jr. cared greatly for three things: his bride, his work as an inventor, and his collection of Roman, medieval, and Renaissance artifacts. This trifecta of devotion inspired him to have a castle constructed on the New England coast in 1926. Hammond Castle was a wedding gift for his new wife, Irene Fenton Hammond. Its medieval architecture was a suitable setting for his impressive collection, while leaving plenty of room for his laboratory.

Some of the more curious details of the household include a two-story medieval meat and wine market modeled after a building Hammond spotted in southern France, and a custom-made stained glass Rose Window that overlooks the Great Hall and its pipe organ. Some say there are even secret passages carved within its stone walls.

3. BOLDT CASTLE // HEART ISLAND, NEW YORK

Teresa Mitchell, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Another palace built for love was the Boldt Castle on the Saint Lawrence River. George Boldt was a Prussian immigrant and self-made millionaire who was desperately dedicated to erecting the perfect summer home for his wife, Louise Augusta Kehrer. Tragically, the 120-room Rhineland-style estate was mere months from completion in 1904 when Kehrer abruptly died. Boldt was so heartbroken over this loss that he abandoned the project completely. He never remarried, and followed his beloved in 1916.

Decades passed and only harsh winters, cruel winds, and vicious vandals visited Boldt Castle. Then, in 1977, Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the whole 5-acre island and its castle, under the condition that all revenues from the space would be applied to its restoration. Since then, Boldt's dream has been realized, with much love and money put to making his palace a dream destination.

4. LYNDHURST CASTLE // TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK

csouza_79, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Acclaimed architect Alexander Jackson Davis created this awe-inspiring home for New York City mayor William Paulding, Jr. in 1838. Designed in a Gothic Revival style, it contains narrow hallways, vaulted ceilings painted with gold-flake stars, and dramatically arched windows. Davis's employment of whimsical turrets and an asymmetrical silhouette on the exterior broke from the standards of contemporary homes, spurring critics to snidely dub the place "Paulding's Folly."

The estate would undergo several overhauls in the coming decades, first at the hands of its second owner, businessman George Merritt, who doubled the size of Lyndhurst in 1864-1865. Fifteen years later, railroad mogul Jay Gould bought it, and his eldest daughter Helen made it her mission to keep the castle and its rolling lawns in pristine shape. By 1966, Lyndhurst was designated a National Historic Landmark. Since then, films like Night of Dark Shadows, House of Dark Shadows, Reversal of Fortune, and the 2014 fantasy-romance Winter's Tale have utilized the luxurious location. Enjoy a virtual tour of its elegant interiors here.

5. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

Industrialist-turned-archaeologist Henry Mercer was not only an ardent fan of ceramics, but also a tile-maker in his own right. Determined to make his home an extension of his artistic passion, he designed his castle with a mix of medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles. Completed in 1912, the 44-room home that boasted 200 windows was a perfect backdrop for his collection of Moravian tiles from the American Arts & Crafts Movement. But Mercer wanted to be sure the castle's unique vision and his legacy would be maintained after his death. His will entrusted the place's upkeep to his housekeeper, Laura Swain. It also requested that his "Castle for the New World" be transformed into a museum. Swain did her best, and even offered tours until she passed in 1975. The Bucks County Historical Society took on Swain's responsibilities in 1990. Officially a National Historic Landmark, Fonthill Castle welcomes over 30,000 visitors a year to peruse Mercer's marvelous collection.

6. IOLANI PALACE // HONOLULU, HAWAII

Though much smaller than many of the castles on this list, this is the only American palace to have housed real royalty. King Kalakua and his sister and successor Queen Kapi'olani decided their line needed a majestic castle to properly project their status to foreign dignitaries. On December 31, 1879, construction began on Hale Alii (House of the Chief), the structure that would later be known as Iolani Palace. But that building fell into disrepair by 1874, and was razed to be replaced by a bigger, better palace, complete with a throne room, grand hall, private suites, and such modern amenities as indoor plumbing. A few years later, Iolani Palace outpaced the White House, getting electricity and telephones first.

But all these advances were little comfort to Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliuokalani when her palace became a prison in 1895, after a coup led to her capture. Her throne room became the courtroom of her condemnation. Her private suite became her cell. Many of the Iolani Palace's treasures were auctioned off by the post-coup Provisional Government. Today, benefactors are attempting to recover these artifacts. But even without them, the restored Palace is a major point of pride for the island.

7. BELVEDERE CASTLE // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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Smack dab in the heart of Manhattan hides a small castle that's a must-see for sightseers. Its name translates to "beautiful view" in Italian, belying its initial intention as a observation deck overlooking Central Park's the Ramble and a pond populated by turtles. Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed this cityscape castle in 1865 as a Victorian Folly, a fantastical structure meant for no purpose beyond its beauty.

In 1919, Belvedere Castle went from folly to functional when the National Weather Service gave it a makeover so they could measure wind speed and rainfall. A 1983 renovation added a small visitor's center, and it still thrives as a popular stop for tourists and locals alike.

8. CASTLE FARMS // CHARLEVOIX, MICHIGAN

HelloAerial, Youtube

Looking to showcase livestock and Sears' farming equipment in a phenomenal fashion, the department store's Vice President Albert Loeb used a French Renaissance chateau as inspiration to build this gorgeous stone castle in 1918. Through the '20s, its dairy's products were a delight to locals attending games at the nearby baseball stadium. Nine years later, Sears shuttered the 1600-acre Loeb Farm and used it for storage until 1965, when it was converted into an art studio by abstract artist Jon Van Haver, and dubbed Castle Van Haver. Four years later, the castle was refashioned as a concert hall, which would play host to acts like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne and the Doobie Brothers.

In 2001, medieval art enthusiastic Linda Mueller purchased the place and spent four years renovating Castle Farms. She transformed it into a tourist attraction where visitors might learn about the medieval culture that so inspires her, or hold galas, weddings, and other events befitting its regal staging.

9. CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS // MOULTONBOROUGH, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Built in 1913 for retired shoe tycoon Thomas Gustave Plant, this 16-room estate is perched on the Ossipee Mountains, overlooking some of the woods and lakes that made up a portion of Plant's 6300 acres. Originally named Lucknow, the house was built in the Arts and Crafts style. Details like a jigsaw kitchen floor tiles, a circular shower, brine fridge, and a central-vacuuming system made his castle fantastical and functional. Though Plant's fortunes took a downturn in the 1920s and the Great Depression, he lived in his castle until his death in 1941.

Fifteen years later, brothers Richard and Donald Robie bought Lucknow, opened it to the public, and rechristened the place "Castle in the Clouds." Castle Springs bottled water and Lucknow Brewery would later be founded on the land once owned by Plant. Finally, in 2006, the Lakes Region Conservation Trust took over the castle and much of its land, preserving both as a spectacle for New Hampshire tourists.

10. CASTELLO DI AMOROSA // CALISTOGA, CALIFORNIA

Photowikiuser816, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The only one on this list that boasts a drawbridge and moat, this 13th-century Tuscany-styled castle includes such authentic medieval details as hand-chiseled stone, hand-painted frescoes, and a 500-year-old fireplace. It's even got a Renaissance-era dungeon with its own 300-year-old iron maiden.

Fourth-generation vintner Dario Sattui spent years researching Europe's great castles before he dared to build his own on the edge of his Napa Valley vineyard. After finding experts who could train him in medieval building techniques, he began construction on Castello di Amorosa in 1994. Thirteen years later, on April 7, 2007, Sattui's hobby gave way to a grand opening. Since then, this palace has been receiving visitors and acclaim for its ambitious architecture and delicious wines.

11. HEARST CASTLE // SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA

If there ever was a family that was American royalty, it was the Hearsts, who spun mining magnate George Hearst's fortune into publishing, politics, filmmaking, and a wealth of scandals. Their castle was so outlandish it became the inspiration for the "Xanadu" mansion in the classic film Citizen Kane.

In 1919, congressman/newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst looked upon the 13 miles of California coastline his father had bought years before for campouts, and told architect Julia Morgan, "We're tired of camping out in the open ... I would like to build a little something." That "little something" would become a 115-room castle that pulled inspirations from all over the world. Its structure mirrors a Spanish cathedral. The guesthouses, which add another 46 rooms, are done in a Mediterranean Revival style. Egyptian Sekhmet statues stand on terraces, and the Neptune pool that holds 345,000 gallons of water is completed with a Roman temple pediment. And just for an added dash of dazzle, there's 127 acres of gardens, a zoo, a private airstrip, and enough art and artifacts that it now classifies as a bona fide museum.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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The 10 Most Visited National Parks in 2019

Josiah Weiss, Unsplash
Josiah Weiss, Unsplash

The U.S. National Park System comprises more than 400 sites, 62 of which are national parks. Within the parks, visitors can explore forests, deserts, volcanoes, and more. But even with the diversity the National Park System has to offer, many visitors find themselves going to the same iconic parks year after year. To see the most-visited national parks in 2019, check out the list below.

This list comes from recreational visitation data gathered by the National Park Service. It doesn't include national monuments, parkways, or similar units—just the sites with the official "national park" designation.

The Great Smoky Mountains tops the list with roughly 12.5 million visits last year. Stretching across five counties in North Carolina and Tennessee, it's less than a day's drive away for one-third of the U.S. population. The accessibility plus the free admission and gorgeous mountain scenery help make it the country's most popular national park.

It's followed by Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park, which saw 5.97 million visits in 2019 to witness its world-famous views. Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park takes third place with 4.7 million visits, and Utah's Zion National Park takes fourth with 4.5 million. Read on for the full top 10.

The National Park Service was established just over a century ago, and it's amassed a fascinating history. Here are some more facts about the United States's national parks.

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  2. Grand Canyon National Park
  3. Rocky Mountain National Park
  4. Zion National Park
  5. Yosemite National Park
  6. Yellowstone National Park
  7. Acadia National Park
  8. Grand Teton National Park
  9. Olympic National Park
  10. Glacier National Park