As summer vacation season is looming, numerous families across the US are planning special trips to their much-loved seaside spots, renowned cities, and exotic global destinations. However, for some, the perfect vacation lies in exploring the vast outdoors in their very own homeland.
In recent years, national parks have been witnessing record numbers of visitors, and it’s not hard to see why. These parks offer breathtaking landscapes, opportunities for wildlife spotting, pleasurable hiking trails, and more. Even though all national parks have something for the little ones, some are more kid-friendly than others.
We reached out to seasoned national park tourists and family travel experts to share their top picks of the 63 US national parks that are best suited for children. Scroll down to explore 10 national parks (and one national monument) that you should add to your kid-friendly vacation list.
1. Everglades National Park
“Everglades National Park stands out as one of the top national parks for kids,” according to Will Pattiz, co-founder of More Than Just Parks.
The highlight of the park is the American alligator, that can almost be considered the park’s mascot. With an estimated 200,000 alligators in the Everglades, a stroll along the park’s Anhinga Trail almost guarantees a sighting.
Pattiz pointed out that the park’s location in Florida makes it easy to pair your visit with Walt Disney World, Florida’s most popular kid-friendly attraction. Additionally, the park also offers great Ranger programs that include guided paddling tours and exploring the swamp lands.
2. Badlands National Park
The Badlands National Park is Leona Wandermust’s, founder of the Wandermust Family travel blog, favorite pick for a kid-friendly national park. The blend of dramatic scenery, variety of wildlife, and an assortment of hikes make it the perfect family destination.
She suggested visiting this South Dakota site in the summer for the best weather and added that there are plenty of lodging options suitable for all family sizes and budgets.
3. Grand Teton National Park
This park provides an immersive nature experience, with abundant wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. The Junior Ranger program is particularly valuable for children, as it gives them an opportunity to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna in a fun and interactive way.
4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns is an especially good choice for kids who are interested in science, as it allows them to see geological processes in action.
The park’s unique features, such as the Doll’s Theater, The Caveman, and the Hall of the Giants, can capture children’s imaginations and keep them entertained. Additionally, the evening bat flights provide a unique spectacle that can be a memorable experience for kids.
5. Yellowstone National Park
As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has plenty to offer children. It has ample amenities to keep kids comfortable and occupied, and its geysers, hot springs, and other geothermal features can provide a fun introduction to geology. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, which can fascinate children.
6. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon can offer kids an impressive introduction to the scale and beauty of nature. Hikes such as the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point are doable for many kids and offer a unique perspective on the canyon’s walls. Children can also learn about the park’s history and geology through ranger-led programs.
7. Rocky Mountain National Park
“When evaluating national parks for family visits, we consider parks with a range of hiking trails, in terms of both difficulty and scenery. Parks with unique seasonal attractions, family-friendly lodging and nearby activities are highly preferred,” Prakash suggested.
“Rocky Mountain National Park is excellent for families as kids can enjoy wildlife, hiking, lakeside play and more, while parents can relax in Estes Park or the park’s cabins. Additionally, the area offers diverse fun activities for all age groups.”
She advised confirming any necessary permits and reservations, and making these arrangements in advance for the Colorado location.
“Families should consider visiting national parks during off-season if possible,” Prakash advised further. “National parks are ideal for holiday and spring break trips due to reduced crowds and often milder, more suitable weather for outdoor activities.”
8. Zion National Park
“Zion National Park is a paradise of red rocks for families,” Jensen stated. “It’s just a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, and Springdale, a walkable town with varied lodging options, restaurants, and stores, is an excellent gateway to the park. The park’s shuttle services Springdale, and it’s merely a mile to the main visitor center and park entrance.”
She suggested starting with simpler hikes in the Utah park, such as the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail, offering magnificent views, and then progressing to slightly challenging trails like the Emerald Pools Trail, featuring a picturesque waterfall.
“Numerous swimming options are available in the Narrows and along the Virgin River,” Jensen further added. “The Pine Creek Waterfall swimming hole is a hidden gem in the park.
Floating down the Virgin River is a delightful summer activity and a relaxing way to admire the park’s stunning landscapes. Safety Tip: Verify water safety due to regular algae bloom via National Park Service notifications or enquire at a visitor’s center upon arrival.
9. Dinosaur National Monument
Although Dinosaur National Monument, located on the Colorado-Utah border, is not classified as one of the 63 U.S. national parks, it is also managed by the National Park Service and is understandably a favorite choice for families.
“Every child I know is fascinated by dinosaurs, and this park features a vast wall of dinosaur bones,” said national parks travel expert Mikah Meyer. “They even let you touch one of the bones! It’s a dream come true for every ‘Jurassic Park’ fan!”
Besides the dinosaur bone wall and numerous hiking trails, Meyer noted that the main visitor center offers a wealth of exhibits and information about dinosaurs, which will undoubtedly appeal to kids.
“Moreover, Dinosaur National Monument is one of the most spectacular sites in the National Park Service but receives only 7% of the annual visitors compared to nearby Zion National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park,” he elaborated.
“This means you can enjoy the park without worrying about traffic congestion and an impatient child in the backseat engrossed in an iPad, distracting from the stunning natural surroundings.”
1. What’s the best time of the year to visit Everglades National Park and what are some activities we can engage in?
The best time to visit Everglades National Park is during the dry season, from November to March, when temperatures are more moderate, mosquitoes are less prevalent, and more animals are visible as they gather around watering holes.
The park offers a number of activities like boat tours, bicycling, bird watching, fishing, hiking, and camping. The Junior Ranger program is also a hit with kids, offering them a fun, educational experience of the park.
2. Are there any recommended educational programs or activities for kids at the Badlands National Park?
Yes, the Badlands National Park offers a Junior Ranger Program where children can learn about the park’s geology, fossils, and wildlife.
This program is designed to help children appreciate the natural world through educational activities and outdoor exploration. Other educational activities include ranger-guided tours and fossil talks where park rangers explain the rich fossil history of the area.
3. What are some recommended safety measures when visiting Grand Teton National Park with children?
When visiting any national park, it’s important to keep safety in mind. At Grand Teton National Park, make sure your family stays on marked trails to avoid getting lost.
It’s also crucial to maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Carry bear spray and know how to use it, as the park is a bear habitat. Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and be prepared for changing weather conditions.
4. How accessible is Carlsbad Caverns National Park for children and those with mobility issues?
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is relatively accessible for everyone. The park’s visitor center, restrooms, and picnic areas are wheelchair-accessible, and the cave has a paved walkway with handrails.
However, the natural entrance to the cave is steep and may not be suitable for young children or those with mobility issues. In such cases, the park’s elevator service provides a comfortable alternative for exploring the cavern.
5. Does Yellowstone National Park offer any special programs or events for kids?
Yes, Yellowstone National Park offers a range of special programs for kids. The Junior Ranger program is designed for kids aged 4 and up, where they complete a series of activities during their park visit and earn a badge.
The Young Scientist program is another popular option for children aged 5 and up. Kids can also participate in ranger-led programs, hikes, and wildlife viewing experiences.
6. Can we camp at the Grand Canyon National Park? What are the facilities like?
Yes, camping is a popular activity at the Grand Canyon National Park. The park has several campgrounds that offer facilities like toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Some of the campgrounds also have RV hookups. It’s important to note that campgrounds fill up quickly, especially during peak season, so reservations are recommended.
7. What are some of the wildlife we can see at the Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife. Visitors can often spot elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, coyotes, and numerous bird species.
Less commonly seen but still present are mountain lions, bobcats, and foxes. Remember, while it’s exciting to spot wildlife, it’s essential to keep a safe distance and never feed the animals.
In conclusion, the United States is replete with captivating national parks that offer an engaging, adventurous, and educational vacation for families.
From the Florida wetlands of Everglades National Park, where one can see alligators in their natural habitat, to the fossil-filled expanses of Dinosaur National Monument, there is a national park for every young explorer’s interest.
The blend of stunning landscapes, abundant wildlife, fun-filled educational programs, and outdoor activities like hiking and swimming make these parks a perfect destination for a family holiday.