Locked Up: Historic Prisons to Visit in America

Step inside the walls of some of America’s oldest and most notorious prisons with a visit tailored just for you! From Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas Island - follow us as we explore fascinating pieces of American history penned up within these historic prison walls. On this journey of prisons to visit in America, learn more about what life was like for inmates through the years. Whether you are a student group seeking an informative field trip or a teacher looking to spark curiosity in your classroom - our guide is here to provide you with all the unique insight into America’s penitentiaries. So get ready — let's transport ourselves back in time to some truly inspiring and captivating places!

Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania – Discover the 19th century prison that housed notorious criminals like Al Capone

prisons to visit in America

Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania was once home to some of the most notorious criminals of the 19th century. One of the most famous inmates was Al Capone, who served time there in the late 1920s. This historic prison, known for its unique wheel-and-spoke design, was founded in 1829 to rehabilitate prisoners through solitary confinement. Despite its intention to promote reflection and reform, Eastern State became known for its harsh living conditions and punishment methods. Today, visitors can tour the prison and see firsthand the fascinating history of this once-imposing institution.

Alcatraz Island, California -Visit the notorious island and learn about its historical inmates

prisons to visit in America

Alcatraz Island is a captivating destination with a rich history, making it an ideal spot for history buffs and adventurers alike. Located in the heart of San Francisco Bay, the island has a long and storied past as home to some of America's most notorious prisoners. Visitors can explore the prison cells, take guided tours, and even hear stories from former inmates and guards. While Alcatraz may be best known for its infamous residents, including Al Capone (here he is again!) and George "Machine Gun" Kelly, it also played an important role in the Civil War and was home to the first lighthouse on the West Coast. With stunning views of the city and fascinating history, Alcatraz Island is a must-see destination.

West Virginia State Penitentiary, West Virginia – See a Gothic-style prison built in 1873

West Virginia State Penitentiary is a piece of history frozen in time. Despite its Gothic-style architecture, the prison remains an imposing sight even after almost 150 years since its construction in 1873. Taking a tour around the penitentiary is a surreal experience that takes visitors back in time, feeling like they have stepped into another era altogether. With its looming stone walls, guard towers, and cramped cells, the prison will give you a glimpse of what life was like for inmates back in the day. It's a must-visit destination for those fascinated with history and the penal system.

San Quentin State Prison, California – Take an audio tour of this “Big House” featured in movies

San Quentin State Prison is not your typical tourist destination, but for those who are looking for a unique and eye-opening experience, this historic prison in California is worth a visit. Featured in numerous movies and documentaries, San Quentin is infamous for its imposing structure and strict security measures. The audio tour allows visitors to explore the prison's grounds and learn about its fascinating history, including stories of notorious criminals and daring escapes. With its towering walls and strict rules, San Quentin is a sobering reminder of the consequences of criminal behavior. However, the tour also offers a glimpse of hope, as visitors can witness the rehabilitative programs that are helping some inmates turn their lives around. Whether you're a history buff or simply curious about the justice system, the San Quentin audio tour is an unforgettable experience.

Old Idaho Penitentiary, Idaho– Tour the “Gibraltar of the West”

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is a fascinating piece of Idaho's history. As you step inside the prison walls, you can almost feel the weight of its convict past. The prison operated from 1872 to 1973 and held some of the most infamous criminals in the state. The prison tour takes you through the dark and narrow corridors, past cells and maximum-security wards, and even a solitary confinement area known as "Siberia." The tour guides tell stories of daring prison escapes, dangerous riots, and the daily life of both inmates and guards. It's a glimpse into a time long gone, yet an integral part of Idaho's cultural heritage.

Mansfield Reformatory, Ohio – Learn about the true story behind The Shawshank Redemption


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The Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio is a place with a rich history and countless stories to tell. One of the most famous tales associated with the prison is that of The Shawshank Redemption. The movie, based on a novella by Stephen King, tells the story of a man's redemption while incarcerated at the Mansfield Reformatory. It’s hard to imagine the number of lives that have passed through the towering walls of the prison, but each one has a unique story to tell. Whether you are a history buff or a movie lover, a visit to the Mansfield Reformatory will leave you with an unforgettable experience.

From the island of Alcatraz to the famous Mansfield Reformatory, each of the prisons on our list have something that makes them unique. With approximately 1.9 million people incarcerated in the United States, it is important to learn about the beginnings of our correctional system. Visiting these places with your group can be made easy by having Adventure Student Travel plan and book your trip for you! Contact us for a quote today.