One fateful day on July 16, 1945, in a lonely desert in New Mexico the world would be changed forever. Months later over 210,000 Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay dead and the War in the Pacific was over. Extremely costly planned landings of Japan had been averted. In the following years the world was in a mad nuclear race in a zero-zero game of Mutually Assured Destruction - something that nearly got out of hand several times (notably the Cuban Missile Crisis).

Today some of those early test sites of the development of this horrendous weapon are preserved in the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. They are perhaps some of the most educational and different attractions in the United States to visit. For another secretive site, check out what we know of Area 51 and its resident little green men.

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About the Manhattan Project National Historical Park

The Manhattan Project Park is a new National Historical Park that was only established under then-President Barack Obama in 2015. It is run jointly by the National Park Service and the Department of Energy. Unlike other parks in the United States, this park is not in one location but is scattered around in three sites in three states in the Lower 48. It may be a difficult park to see all of, but easier to see some of! There are many protected facilities but most remain restricted. The three sites are.

  • Hanford, Washington: A Secret Factory That Made Plutonium
  • Los Alamos, New Mexico: A Covert Lab That Built The Bombs
  • Oak Ridge, Tennessee: A Hidden Complex That Enriched Uranium
  • Park Closure: Note As At The Time Of Writing, The Hanford Unit Visitor Center Is Closed And Public Tours Are Postponed Until Further Notice "Out Of An Abundance Of Caution", See Here For Up To Date Info

Today, the sites are managed and owned by the Department of Energy while the National Park Service is responsible for interpretive services, the park rangers, their services, and the visitor centers.

To see an actual nuclear disaster site, see how to visit the Chernobyl site safety.

Related: 24 Little Known Facts About The Mystery Surrounding Area 51

Hanford, Washington (Closed As At The Time Of Writing)

This is was the site of plutonium production and occupies an area of around 600 square miles. This site was chosen because of the abundant supply of cold Columbia river water that they needed to cool the nuclear reactors. As well as the ample hydroelectric power, the mild climate, and transportation facilities. It had the world's first nuclear production reactors that produced plutonium. The plutonium from this site was in the bomb that destroyed Nagaski.

Normally there is a tour to the main reactor, check with the National Park Service to see when it is offered again.

  • B Reactor National Historic Landmark (Can Be Toured Via Bus Tours With Advance Reservation)
  • Old Hanford High School
  • Bruggemann's Agricultural Warehouse Complex
  • White Bluffs Bank And Hanford Irrigation District Pump House

Los Alamos, New Mexico

The secret laboratory is perched on top of a mesa with canyons cutting through the surrounding landscape. This was the ideal environment for the scientists to work in isolation and remoteness. It is not far out of Santa Fe. This is where the first atomic weapons were built and today many of the buildings and sites here are restricted to the public.

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They used enriched uranium from Oak Ridge and plutonium from Hanford.

Los Alamos: Tour Behind The Fence

  • Type: Guided Tour Of Parts Of The Site Of The Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Reservations: Reservations Are Required
  • Duration: 3 Hours
  • Age: Must Be 18 And Over
  • When: Springs, Summer, And Fall

Los Alamos: Explore the Bradbury Science Museum

  • Notes: One can Tour the Museum, Pets are allowed and it is Open Year Round, Interactive Exhibits

Los Alamos: Hike Kwage Mesa

  • What: Hiking On The Kwage Mesa Trail - Open Year Round
  • Duration: 2-4 Hours
  • Notes: Pets Are Permitted, Hikers Can View the Canyons And Mesas Of The Pajarito Plateau

Related: Uncovering Secrets: Finding The Secret Passageways Of Paris

Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Oak Ridge was home to several massive Manhattan Project facilities that employed thousands of workers. Following the war, the project relocated to New York City. They had one goal - to enrich uranium. Today several highly-secured nuclear research facilities still exist and there is much to discover in this city about the Manhattan Project. Today one can discover the museum - Oak Ridge: Visit the American Museum of Science & Energy - and go on the tour.

Sites At Oak Ridge:

  • X-10 Graphite Reactor
  • Buildings 9731 and 9204-3 at the Y-12 complex
  • East Tennessee Technology Park, located on the site of the K-25 Building

Oak Ridge: Experience a Guided Tour Behind the Fence

  • Type: Guided Bus Tours
  • Restrictions: Must Be Aged 10 and Over and No Pet Are Permitted
  • Reservations: Reservations Are Required
  • Season: Spring, Summer, And Fall

Next: Are There Really Tunnels Under New York City? This Is What We Know