Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, is a great place to take your kids to learn about U.S. history and burn off some energy. The protection of the fort during the war of 1812 (Battle of Baltimore in 1814 to be specific) inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.

Our Visit

I went there for the first time with my the younger kids last week during an impromptu pre-Thanksgiving trip. Even though I lived in the region for several years, this was my first visit to the site.

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It was a cold and windy day when we visited. Our group consisted of my teenage daughter, my 8-year-old, my friend, her pre-school aged son and myself. My kids learned about Francis Scott Key and the Star Spangled banner in school, so they were excited to see the site. My friend’s son was excited to play outside.

The visitor center shows a movie and has displays about the Fort, Key and the Star Spangled banner. My son picked up the junior ranger booklet there as well. There’s a $15 fee to visit the fort. Children are free. You can also use your National Park pass.

The grounds right outside the fort has a lot space to run around. The fort itself has a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. Some of the rooms have exhibits as well as artifacts on display.

Worth the trip?

I’ve never been to a national park I didn’t enjoy, so of course you should visit! Though depending on whose in your party, I would adjust your visit.

Preschool children and younger: The exhibits probably won’t hold their interest, but the grounds have plenty of room to run and burn energy.  Adults could take turns looking at exhibits and watching the little ones. The fort itself would be fun for them to explore, but adults would have to make sure to keep an eye on children both for their safety as well as making sure they don’t climb or touch anything they are not supposed to.

elementary school kids: Elementary-age kids will enjoy the junior ranger program. It’s free! Ask the ranger on site for the book. While they are old enough to read and understand the exhibits, the junior ranger books will help them understand the exhibits better. Just pace yourself. There’s a lot of information in both the exhibits in the visitor center as well as the fort. If you’re not careful, younger kids will get tired and lose their patience.

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Middle school and up: Middle school and older will appreciate the exhibits and films. There are usually volunteers around that are great and provide additional information. When you arrive, ask if there is a ranger talk. Those are usually interesting to almost everyone in the party.

Additional Notes

Restrooms are located in the visitor center. There’s a film that plays at the top of the hour that provides a good overview to the site. There is no food at the site but since it’s located in Baltimore, I’d recommend making plans to enjoy a meal at one of the great places to eat in Baltimore either before or after your visit.

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