When planning a national park visit for your family, you may feel overwhelmed with options and unsure what types of activities your kids will enjoy. Here are 10 national parks that are sure to please everyone in your family, regardless of age.Less
The famous, sweeping vistas of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park are regarded as a “must-see” by many, making it a natural choice for your family’s first national park visit. The park’s South Rim is where you’ll find the most amenities; making this your home base will put you within easy reach of kid-friendly dining and accommodations. While a journey down into the canyon isn’t advised for novice hikers, the paved Rim Trail offers plenty of canyon views and easy access for families.
Another fun, and often underrated, experience can be found at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Guided tours through this breathtaking cave system range from 60 to 90 minutes, so your little one’s patience (and attention span) won’t be tested. The 75-minute Natural Entrance Tour allows you to see exceptional boxwork and cave popcorn formations, sure to pique everyone’s interest.
As the name suggests, Petrified Forest National Park offers a chance to see a vast collection of colorful petrified wood. But the park’s location in Arizona’s Painted Desert allows visitors to also take in a striking landscape of multi-hued pigment rock. Hikes throughout the park are generally short and manageable, making this a perfect option for those traveling with kids in tow. Trek to Puerco Pueblo to see 600-year-old petroglyphs and journey through the Crystal Forest Trail.
At Death Valley National Park, your kids can slide down the towering Mesquite Sand Dunes, hike through the aptly named Golden Canyon, and marvel at the salt polygon patterns found at Badwater Basin. The park’s large size provides a variety of natural features to see and offers a lesson in the types of life that flourish in an extreme climate. The landscape is hauntingly beautiful, and its remote setting allows you to truly unplug and enjoy time together.
The iconic geothermal features at Yellowstone National Park make this destination an easy choice for families. But the near-certain chance of seeing animals such as elk, bison, or mule deer is an equally compelling reason to take your kids to Yellowstone. Drive through the Hayden or Lamar valleys and tackle family-friendly hikes to the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You’re sure to come away with countless memories of the critters you encountered along the way.
Imagine speeding over the surface of the water in an airboat, twisting and gliding through mangrove tunnels. The boat skids to a stop and suddenly you see it: a family of hungry alligators lurking in the grasslands. If your kids are intrigued by creepy crawlies and scaly reptiles, take a trip to Florida’s Everglades National Park. Climb to the top of the Shark Valley Observation Tower for a 360-degree view of the glades, then walk, bike, or ride a tram along a 15-mile loop.
Arches National Park offers a bounty of accessible hikes to enjoy views of the park’s many namesake arch formations. A trek to Double Arch is an easy, half-mile walk that allows you to view two large arches, or opt to take a 1.9-mile hike to Landscape Arch, a thin arch with a span that’s longer than the length of a football field. This Utah park also contains other rock formations, including Balanced Rock, which looks as though its delicate placement could come crashing down at any moment.
Those ready to tackle some longer hikes should head for Montana’s Glacier National Park. Surrounded by the northern Rocky Mountains, the park offers the opportunity to take in one of the most scenic drives in the U.S., spy moose in their natural habitat, and skip gem-colored stones across an alpine lake. But for the best views, attempt one of the park’s magnificent hikes. Kids will enjoy the views from the 5.9-mile Avalanche Lake Trail, or the shorter (but steeper) 2-mile Aster Park hike.
Tucked along Texas’ southern border is the diverse Big Bend National Park. Here your family will find everything from sea fossils and dinosaur bones to volcanic dikes as you journey through the park’s mountain, river, and desert areas. On the 1.7-mile Santa Elena Canyon Trail you’ll travel into the mouth of the striking Santa Elena Canyon, or cross into Mexico on a rowboat at the Boquillas Crossing—just don’t forget your passport.
Accessible and surrounded by endless opportunities for play, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an ultimate vacation spot for families. Yes, you’ll find kid-friendly hikes such as the Kephart Prong Trail and Porters Creek, but your kids will be equally delighted by the popular tourist attractions found in the Tennessee gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.