Guide to visiting national parks with kids
With hundreds to choose from, help your kids discover the unique beauty of America through its national parks.
Which park to choose
Variety is the spice of life and there's no shortage of that when visiting national parks. Consider the age of your children and decide what they might be able to handle. Families with babies or toddlers who are content in a stroller or carrier, might enjoy long hikes and wilderness tours. Families with children who walk on their own might need to scale down the length of the hike and ruggedness of the terrain to match their child's abilities. Check the national park's websites for a complete list and description of what the park has to offer, including children's programs.
Getting to the park
Since most national parks are located in wilderness areas, getting there will most likely involve flying to a major airport and then driving some distance. You can usually find public transportation and shuttles to travel to and from the park as well.
Where to eat and sleep
Lodging can range anywhere from a five-star hotel to tent cabins. Most national parks in the US have lodges with a main dining room or restaurant, as well as other food options for more casual dining. Some even have grocery stores for those snacks and other necessary items. Arrange your lodging and know your food options before you go so that there are no surprises when you get there.
What to bring
Perhaps the single most important item to pack when visiting national parks with kids is a solid, comfortable pair of shoes. Carry layers and a change of clothes along as you and your family partake in the park's activities. To keep kids entertained and indulge their curiosity, bring along a pair of binoculars and possibly a map or wildlife guide.
Continue their learning experience by looking into children's programs at the national park you are visiting. Some of the better known programs include the Junior Ranger program that helps children aged 5 to 12 learn about the resources and ecology of the national parks, the Young Scientist program that awards students ages five and up with patches or key chains for completing certain activities, and the Web Rangers program that is an online national park program with games and stories about nature and animals. Each park offers free, ranger-led programs of varying lengths that are specifically designed for young children.
When looking for a unique family vacation idea that combines fun with the appreciation for the beauty of America, national parks are the perfect option.