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From monuments to museums, America’s Heartland is chock full of iconic attractions that group travelers will not want to miss, including everything from St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and Minnesota’s Mall of America to the Henry Ford museum complex in Michigan, the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana and one of the top zoos in the country in Omaha, Nebraska.

Build your next group tour through the Heartland around some of these popular attractions.

Gateway Arch National Park

St. Louis, Missouri

The Gateway Arch stands sentinel over the city of St. Louis and the Mississippi River like a shiny silver rainbow. The iconic destination, a monument to western expansion, received a $380 million renovation to its grounds and museum in 2018. 

The arch is made up of 43,000 tons of concrete and steel that rises 63 stories above its surroundings, which are now a national park. Groups begin their visit with the site’s new interactive pre-boarding exhibits featuring 1960s-era animation and Gateway Arch trivia. Then they ride the tram 630 feet to the top for unparalleled views of the city and river. Each tram tour lasts 45-60 minutes. 

The museum is well worth a visit. It traces the history of Native Americans, explorers and pioneers who helped make America what it is today. Exhibits explain westward expansion, St. Louis’ role and what life was like in colonial St. Louis. Visitors also will learn more about the Louisiana Purchase and Thomas Jefferson’s vision of Manifest Destiny. Other exhibits detail the additional elements of the area’s history and how the Gateway Arch was built. 

If groups have time, they can take a sightseeing, dinner or specialty cruise on a replica 19th century paddle-wheel riverboat, which offers amazing views of the arch from the Mississippi River. The Gateway Arch National Park also includes the Old Courthouse, which was where the Dred Scott decision took place. Groups of 20 or more wanting a guided tour of the Gateway Arch must reserve in advance. 

gatewayarch.com 

Mall of America

Bloomington, Minnesota

The largest shopping and entertainment complex in the U.S. at 5.6 million square feet of space, the Mall of America has two major hotels attached to it, the JW Marriott and Radisson Blue, as well as an indoor amusement park and aquarium, making it a major destination for U.S. and international travelers. Celebrating its 30th birthday in 2022, the mall features more than 520 stores, from clothing, shoes and toys, to books, games, bakeries, fast food and sit-down restaurants. The mall hosts more than 400 events a year and attracts 40 million people from around the world annually.

Top attractions include Nickelodeon Universe, a seven-acre indoor theme park with roller coasters,  Nickelodeon-themed retail shops and restaurants. Other mall attractions include Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, Rock of Ages Blacklight Mini Golf, The LEGO Store (which features a 34-foot-tall LEGO Robot) and FlyOver America (an immersive flight simulation ride). There’s also Crayola Experience, 5D Extreme Attraction, Amazing Mirror Maze, the Escape Game, Xscape Arcade, Xscape Midway and an M&M store.

Groups may enjoy visiting the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, which holds 1.3 million gallons and features a 300-foot-long ocean tunnel for better viewing of sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, stingrays and seahorses. The mall is also building a 250,000-square-foot indoor waterpark with water slides, rides and a wave pool.

mallofamerica.com 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis

Home to the Indianapolis 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a major destination for any groups interested in cars or racing history. 

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum offers a variety of tours throughout the year, including tours of the speedway grounds. One of the most popular is the “Kiss the Bricks” tour, which includes a 30-minute narrated lap around the oval track with a stop at the finish line and the famous Yard of Bricks, where guests can take photos and have their own “Kiss the Bricks” moment, which is how drivers celebrate a victory at the Speedway.

The View from the Top Tour drives through the south end of the infield on Hulman Boulevard with audio commentary recorded by an Indianapolis Motor Speedway personality, as well as a 30-minute guided tour and 360-degree views of the Speedway facility. It also includes a self-guided tour of the museum’s 37,500-square-foot exhibit space. The Behind the Scenes Tour is a 60-minute tour that takes groups to see the media center, victory podium, a corporate suite and the pagoda where timing and scoring and race control rooms are located. The tour drives through Gasoline Alley and the Garage Area and then visitors can visit the museum.

For groups interested in a more VIP experience, tours are available of The Basement Collection, a collection of rare and rarely seen racecars, passenger cars and some of the most valuable cars in the world. The museum is open 363 days a year. 

imsmuseum.org 

The Henry Ford

Dearborn, Michigan

The name Henry Ford is synonymous with Michigan, birthplace of America’s automobile industry. Car and history buffs will want to set aside a day or two to explore the Henry Ford, an expansive museum complex in Dearborn that includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory and Giant Screen Experience. 

The museum explores past innovations in flight, railroad and automobiles. The museum encompasses 12 acres, including Buckminster Fuller’s aluminum Dymaxion House of the future and an exhibit that explores transformative moments in American history from the Revolution, antislavery movement and Civil War era to women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement. Visitors can step inside the bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, or learn about America’s extensive history of automobile racing. 

At Greenfield Village, families can take a ride in a Model-T or visit four working farms. The village sits on 80 acres and has more than 80 historic structures to visit, including the laboratory where Thomas Edison created the lightbulb, the George Washington Carver house, the home where Henry Ford was born and Orville and Wilbur Wright’s bike shop. 

For car lovers, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour shows visitors how the F-150 pickup truck is manufactured and allows them to visit the assembly plant. The Automotive Hall of Fame highlights the people behind the auto industry.

thehenryford.org 

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is a world-renowned zoo and is the No. 1 visitor attraction in in the city. Groups could spend an entire day exploring the zoo and its many first-class exhibits, including the world’s largest indoor desert dome, which resides under the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome; America’s largest indoor rainforest; and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium.

At the 160-acre zoo, animals that would normally be found together in the wild — such as zebras, ostriches, and elephants — are exhibited together. The Desert Dome is something that can’t be found at any other zoo in the U.S. It features plants and animals from the Namib Desert in southern Africa, Red Center of Australia and Sonoran Desert in the southwest U.S. The three deserts are divided by a 55-foot-tall mountain, and the Namib Desert portion features a 30-foot-tall sand dune containing 300 tons of red sand from a mine site near Phoenix.

Visitors to the Lied Jungle can see monkeys, tapirs, macaws and pygmy hippos as they listen to the crashing of waterfalls. The exhibit encompasses rainforests from South America, Africa and Asia. The aquarium is the largest of its kind within a zoo, with sea turtles, sharks, Antarctic penguins and warm-water fish. A 70-foot shark tunnel allows visitors to watch sea life as it circles above them. 

omahazoo.com

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