Visiting the U.S. National Parks with Kids
Plan a fun family vacation to one of the US’s National Parks with our family-friendly guide to the National Parks with Kids!
We took my girls to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona in March 2020, our first visit to a National Park as a family, literally the week before the world shut down. At the time they were 6, 7 and 10. We didn’t know what they would think of our excursion. Would they find National Parks interesting? Breathtaking? Boring? Would they find the videos and information about the Grand Canyon’s forming intriguing? Or would they be bored out of their minds?
I’ll admit that we normally plan our family vacations around activities for the kids, hence why this was the first time we’d visited a National Park as a family. We’ve done Disney and are planning Universal Studios for the holidays. We like to hit the beach and try out new water and amusement parks. Basically, anything to keep them entertained for a few days! And, let’s face it. The Grand Canyon, to a six-year-old, just “looks like a big hole in the ground.” (That’s a direct quote from my sassy youngest, although, she was pretty impressed with this particular giant hole which isn’t actually a hole!) But Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World? Now that elicits oohs and ahhs.
Planning a Trip to the National Parks with Kids
Our trip to the Grand Canyon started because a friend told me about the free National Parks pass for fourth graders. At the time, my oldest, then 10, was in fourth grade. And every fourth grader in the nation can go to the Every Kid Outdoors Website and print out a free pass, good for the fourth grader and his or her entire family to get free admission to the National Parks in the US for a year! Actually, because of Covid, fifth graders can access the same pass, which is good until August 31, 2021. Pretty awesome!
Planning your National Parks Visit
From there, we used the trip-planning tools provided on the site’s sister Website, FindYourPark.com, which enabled us to search for spots to visit, free with the fourth grade pass, all around the country. From Acadia National Park in Maine to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, our beautiful nation has no shortage of heart-stopping scenery preserved in our National Parks. How do you decide which one to visit?
FindYourPark.com connected us with lots of inspiration, from places to stay to things to do. I did a couple of quick Google searches to come up with our travel itinerary. We decided on the Grand Canyon because it was a pretty easy, albeit long, drive from our home in Texas to central Arizona. My next goal destination is Yellowstone! My middle daughter will be in fourth grade next year, so we will get to apply for a new free pass! Now we just have to decide when to visit.
Best Times to Visit the National Parks
Surprisingly, Spring Break is a great time to visit many popular National Parks, from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone and Acadia National Park to Zion. Because the weather isn’t guaranteed to be warm in March and April, most travelers, especially with kids, decide to save the National Parks for summertime and flock to Florida’s sunny beaches instead. We found the Grand Canyon delightfully uncrowded during our March visit. And the weather, while not warm, wasn’t cold, either. We each wore pants and t-shirts with comfortable sneakers and jackets or sweatshirts tied around our waists. I carried a backpack filled with necessary supplies for a successful day of walking and exploring: sunscreen, hats, water, snacks, hand sanitizer, bug spray, band aids, wet wipes, money. We were prepared!
Many National Parks allow you to camp onsite. We did stay at a cabin inside the Grand Canyon National Park during our visit and loved it. Cell service was spotty, so we got to connect with one another. There was a great cafeteria within the park, and a large gift shop. We did lots and lots of walking and the kids didn’t really complain. If they had been younger, I may have grabbed a baby and toddler carrier or backpack to tote the youngest around because a stroller would not have been ideal. Overall, this visit to the Grand Canyon has merely piqued our interest in visiting more of the US’s gorgeous National Parks. Here are the top six on our list.
Six National Parks to Visit with Kids
- Great Sand Dunes, Colorado: The tallest sand dunes in North America come with no shortage of things to do with kids! Try sandboarding or sand sledding. How cool do those sound, or partake in the free Junior Ranger program. Go for a hike or cool down and splash around at Medano Creek.
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho: Experience hot springs and geysers up close, or gaze at all sorts of wildlife from afar. Ride a horse, or a bike, or participate in a guided hike. Lots of fun to be had! Yellowstone also has a free Junior Ranger program for kids.
- Everglades National Park, Florida: Climb up to Shark Valley’s 65-foot high observation tower to behold an unparalleled view of the Everglades. Look for alligators (my kids love gators!) and other wildlife in the wetlands. Canoe, bike, hike or watch the sunset over Flamingo, the southernmost point in mainland Florida. Endless possibilities.
- Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico: You currently need a reservation to enter Carlsbad Caverns, so plan accordingly. But these caverns, home to lots of wildlife that roam the National Park above ground, were formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind all sorts of caverns. Check out the programming surrounding bats. Sounds both creepy and fascinating!
- Death Valley National Park, California, Nevada: Explore the hottest, driest and lowest National Park in the United States. While you should avoid a visit in summertime (the heat advisory is already in effect!), this spot would be great in the fall and winter. Participate in the Junior Ranger program, hike the sand dunes and so much more.
- Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts: Enjoy some quality beach time with the family on the East Coast. Although Cape Cod is incredibly busy during the summer season, its jaw-dropping beauty will blow your mind. Check out lighthouses, cultural landscapes, bogs and more during your visit.