Whether you’re into exploring hiking trails, camping, going on scavenger hunts, or even soaking in hot springs, there’s a national park out there that you’ll love.Less
Located around 4 hours from both San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sequoia National Park is home to the famous General Sherman Tree (the world's largest tree by volume). Also not to be missed is The Congress Trail—a 2.7-mile paved hike that loops through the forest where you'll get up close and personal with other famous sequoias like The President, The House, and the Senate—jaw-droppingly beautiful trees that have called this micro-climate home for the past 2,500 years or so.
Designated as one of the darkest places in the country, it’s one of the best places to stargaze with your kids. It’s also filled with fossils—be sure to take your dino enthusiast to the Fossil Discovery Exhibit. There are also plenty of hiking opportunities for families: some of the best trails for kids include the Window View, the Basin Loop, the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, and for older kids, the Lost Mine Trail is worth the trek.
Filled with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, two favorites include the Tuolomne Grove Nature Trail because you are rewarded with some massive Giant Sequoias, including the one you can walk through, and the Mist Trail as you have the opportunity to see two waterfalls. Make sure you set aside some time to spend exploring Yosemite Village. Grab some lunch and souvenirs at the gift shop (it is huge—perfect to stock up on everything from hot cocoa to wine to grilling supplies).
Sandstone cliffs, slot canyons, and animal wildlife are all part of the wonder of Zion National Park in Utah. You’ll want to give yourselves plenty of time at this scenic destination to take it all in. Try a kid-friendly hike, like The Grotto Trail, Weeping Rock Trail, or the Emerald Pool Trail. While at the Emerald Pool trail, be sure to check out the gorgeous waterfall views.
Located in Maine, Acadia National Park offers trails along the granite shoreline that seem to rise from the sea. There are plenty of opportunities to learn about lobsters or search for harbor seals, the cool freshwater lakes, and frothy saltwater tidal invite exploring, and there are plenty of yummy lobster dinners within reach.
Explore the coastline and see wild horses on this island sanctuary. Since the park is located on a 37-mile-long barrier island, this spot is ideal for beach-loving families. Look for shells, kayak, play in the ocean, or visit one of the centers for a nature program and to experience the marine life touch tanks.
The third-largest national park in the lower 48 states spans 2,400 miles and offers a respite from cold winter temps elsewhere in the country. The dry winter season here means more animals to spot (hello, alligators and manatees!), more ranger programs to attend (think: hikes, bikes, and talks), and way fewer mosquitos than you and the kiddos would find any other time of year.
The dramatic landscape of Badlands has an otherworldly feel that has to be seen to be believed. With a combination of impressive rock formations and beautiful grasslands, this South Dakota spot is worth a visit. Drive Badlands Loop Road and stop at a few of the overlooks for jaw-dropping views. Popular with kids, the quarter-mile Fossil Exhibit Trail winds along a boardwalk and features fossil replicas.
Although not as well known as some other parks, Cuyahoga Valley is an ideal spot to watch changing foliage, colorful wildflowers and wildlife. Nestled between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, this midwestern park may become a new favorite. To see a magical view of Blue Hen Falls, the Blue Hen Falls Trail is an easy hike that the whole family can do together. At half a mile and just under thirty minutes, it’s a great intro trail and leads to the peaceful waterfall.
If you’ve got a dino lover in your house, then Dinosaur National Monument is a definite stop for your list. Inside the Quarry Hall, the kids can check out over 1,500 real preserved dinosaur fossils that are sure to fascinate them. Next, move on to see some petroglyphs and pictographs as you drive the 10-mile Tour of Tilted Rocks. You’ll also find hiking, river rafting, and ranger-guided programs.