Yes, a military college is a tourist attraction.
Judging by the number of tour buses in the parking lot, West Point Military Academy is a VERY popular attraction!
FIRST, A BIT OF HISTORY
Before West Point was a military academy, its location played a pivotal role in America’s Revolutionary War. George Washington considered this area along New York’s Hudson River to be the most important strategic position in the fight against the British. In 1778, soldiers built fortifications to defend the area and also ran a 150-ton iron chain across the Hudson River to control river traffic. Their plan worked.
After the war ended, the country’s founders became increasingly concerned about the United States’ reliance on foreign military advisors and strategists. They decided this knowledge should be brought in house, so to speak, and in 1802 President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation that created the United States Military Academy at West Point.
West Point is considered the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.
Roughly 4,000 cadets attend West Point Military Academy each year. To be admitted to the college requires, among other things, a nomination by a member of Congress or other official. Anyone know a president?
All cadets must adhere to a strict honor code that states “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
Participation in athletic activities is mandatory and the cadets are also groomed in areas of leadership.
The academy has a deep history rooted in civil engineering, but over the decades the list of bachelor of science degrees cadets can major in has grown.
Tuition is free for the cadets, but they must commit to serving in the military for five years upon graduation. Most graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the army.
If you read about or hear a reference to the “The Long Gray Line” it refers to West Point cadets and alumni.
Learn more about West Point’s history here.
THE TOURIST EXPERIENCE
As a tourist, here’s what you can do on your visit to West Point Military Academy: tour the visitor center, visit the West Point Museum, take a bus tour of the college.
The Visitor Center was, in my opinion, extremely well done. We’re talking fancy museum quality with interactive displays, a theater – the whole works.
My kids loved pouring over this book detailing some of the famous visitors to West Point. My son is pointing to Abraham Lincoln’s signature, but also on this particular page was listed Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Quite the list!
If you are visiting West Point with children, the Visitor Center has plenty of interactive activities that they can touch and experience from computer games to rifle shooting simulations.
Not only will you get a historical perspective of West Point, you’ll also learn about what life is like for a cadet.
West Point Museum
Next door to the Visitor Center is the West Point Museum, our country’s oldest federal museum. Its origin dates back to, you guessed it, the American Revolution.
When American soldiers would capture foreign artillery or other military items, they would bring them back to West Point and these would become training aids for our soldiers.
The galleries in this museum contain weapons, uniforms and other military memorabilia dating back to the 17th century. There is also an extensive art collection. If you are a military history buff, this is the museum for you.
As a West Point tourist, if you want to venture past the Visitor Center and the museum, you need to take a guided bus tour.
We did not take this tour, but I have the overview for you!
(Side note: if you are visiting West Point for a football game, admittance info can be found here.)
Tours are offered daily and you can purchase advance tickets starting at $13 for kids/$16 for adults (prices as of 2018). A select number of tickets are available for walk-up purchases in the Visitor Center, but you are going to be subject to what’s still available on that particular day and time.
Please note, individuals 17 and older MUST HAVE IDENTIFICATION in order to take the tour. If you are a foreign national, please read all the identification requirements.
There are two tours:
1 hour, 15 minute tour – stops at the Cadet Chapel, Trophy Point, Battle Monument and the Plain. 50 minutes of the tour is spent OFF the bus.
2 hour tour – Offered seasonally, this tour expands on the one hour 15 minute tour by exploring the West Point Cemetery and Old Cadet Chapel. Plan to be off the bus and walking for approximately 80 minutes.
If you don’t want to take a guided tour, you can always get a birds-eye view (like this one below) of the area from New York’s Hwy 9 West. Can you imagine this view in the fall with all the leaves changing color?
I don’t think I’m alone when I say, as an American, I am extraordinarily proud of and thankful for all the people who serve or have served in our armed forces.
I also don’t think I’m alone when I say, as a parent, I am really hoping my kids pick a career that is nice and safe.
It’s uncomfortable to have these conflicting emotions.
I didn’t know what to expect when we visited West Point Military Academy. I have a little boy who thinks soldiers hung the moon. They are larger than life heroes to him that get to do cool things like jump out of planes, drive tanks and keep us all safe.
I thought it was likely that we’d see some of those ‘cool’ things and lo and behold there was a tank right at the entrance to the visitor’s parking lot.
I didn’t expect to be so thoroughly impressed by West Point’s emphasis on ethics. Of all the messages West Point was sending via their Visitor Center, this is the one that stood out to me. Yes, I know the Visitor Center is a marketing tool for the academy. Yes, I know they are putting their best foot forward. Yes, I know the military, in general, does not have a perfect ethics record.
And yet, just because bad things or poor decisions happen doesn’t mean you stop trying to make things better.
I was so happy to see West Point setting a public tone that ethics, honor, leadership and integrity are of the utmost importance. Quite frankly, it was refreshing. I wish all colleges did this. We need smart, educated folks in this world, but we also need folks with a strong moral compass.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy traveling, check out one of these posts!