Looking for an affordable, fun, and family-friendly vacation? Visit a national park!
We’ve rounded up a list of national parks with kid-friendly hiking, fun activities, and enough adventure for the entire family.
Here’s our pick for some of the best national parks for families.
Acadia National Park
Maine’s Acadia National Park offers several easy hikes for the kiddos, such Wonderland Trail (1.5 miles) and Gorham Mountain (1.8 miles.) In late summer, many of Acadia’s trails have the added bonus of fresh blueberries ripe for the picking. Popular swimming holes include Sand Beach and Echo Lake, for ocean and freshwater swimming, respectively. Plus, low tide is the perfect time to search for seashells and other ocean treasures.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is great for families, with easy hikes, beautiful drives, and fascinating underground caves. The hike to Dark Hollow Falls is 1.5 miles and easy enough for small children. If you don’t feel like hiking, take the famous Skyline Drive, 105-miles of scenic driving through the entire length of the park. And the impressive stalagmites and underground Rainbow Lake in Shenandoah Caverns will thrill the whole family.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is not only gorgeous but also but incredibly accessible for kids. With several easy hikes and breathtaking views around every corner, children of all ages will be enchanted by the incredible rock formations in the Utah desert. With many hikes less than half-a-mile, smaller children will be able to explore the park with ease, while older kids may want to partake in the 3.0-mile roundtrip hike to the famed Delicate Arch.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is the perfect addition to any trip to Florida. Kids will delight in the tram ride through Shark Valley, a tour which invites travelers to witness the various wildlife within the park, such as gators, snakes, and birds. (Sadly, there are no sharks to be seen in Shark Valley.) Next, take the ranger-led Everglades Backcountry Boat Tour out of Flamingo, with the hopes of seeing both an alligator and a crocodile, as its the only place in the world where they live in the same natural habitat.
Muir Woods National Monument
No matter your age, Muir Woods National Monument is sure to inspire awe and wonder. But imagine being a tiny tot and looking up at a 260-foot high tree — now that is an experience to remember. Even better, the park has a quiet zone, where visitors are asked to turn off their cell phones and keep their voices low. The result is a beautiful place to unplug and simply witness the beauty of nature — an important lesson at any age.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is just the spot for an unforgettable family vacation. Kids of all ages will be amazed by the beauty of the park and its surroundings. Jenny Lake is a must-visit, and swimming and snorkeling are allowed in certain parts of the pristine alpine lake. Plus, bookworms will love Jenny of the Tetons by Kristiana Gregory, a children’s book based on the real-life Shoshone woman for whom the lake was named. Other nearby activities include horseback riding, white water rafting on the Snake River, and visiting Colter Bay for a scenic cruise on Jackson Lake.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is just the spot for a family who thrives on adventure. Home to the tallest dunes in North America, this national park has 30 miles of sand dunes for exploration. When conditions are right, visitors can go sand sledding and sandboarding down the dunes, for some good old-fashioned fun. Sled and board rentals are available from local retailers in the San Luis Valley. If sandboarding isn’t your thing, head to Medano Creek for an afternoon of kayaking, tubing, and splashing in the water.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is filled with family-friendly activities and a great place for those who are new to national parks. The park itself is filled with waterfalls that require little walking for small children, such as Mingo Falls and Meigs Falls. Even better, Deep Creek allows floating on inner-tubes for a two-mile section of the river, a float which passes by Tom Branch Falls. Plus, The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont offers a Smoky Mountain Family Camp in early July, a weeklong program offering daily activities and a structured itinerary for adventuring families.
National parks have plenty of fun activities for kids of all ages. Will you be heading to a national park for your next vacation?
Jersey Griggs is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. In addition to travel, Jersey covers topics ranging from outdoor recreation to alternative wellness. To learn more, follow Jersey on Twitter or check out her website.