7 Best National Parks for Families

Unplug and tune into Mother Nature, with a little help from the park rangers, as you hike, climb, bike and swim your way through the best national parks for families.

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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Remote river in Gates of the Arctic) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Noatak River) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions.  960 1280

By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. 960 1280
North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Stargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. 960 1280

By Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA (Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The waters around the islands are filled with coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life that are perfect for a snorkeling trip.  960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Scuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, so leave your car behind, and set sail from Houghton or Cooper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Once there, get ready for a day of backcountry hiking or navigating the lakes, bays and islands in a kayak or canoe. If you're not an experienced paddler, avoid the frigid water and possible squalls on a guided boat tour. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

To extend your trip, spend the night at the Rock Harbor Lodge, found in the island's northeast corner, with simple rooms and cottages overlooking the lake. 960 1280
Paddle the Pacific

Paddle the Pacific

Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to some of the best kayaking on the West Coast. Rich with marine life and boasting the much-photographed Arch Rock, Anacapa is the perfect day trip or overnighter for the city dweller looking to get into some rough water. It’s a cliff island, so beware of winds, currents and fog.  

 

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Great Art Productions  

Float the Border

Float the Border

The mighty Rio Grande runs through Big Bend National Park in Texas, but it also represents the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Rafting down the river not only takes you through some eye-widening scenery, like 1500-foot deep canyons, but will also toss you back and forth across the border. 960 1280

Witold Skrypczak  

Hit the Sandy Slopes

Hit the Sandy Slopes

Colorado has Aspen, one of the most famous skiing destinations on the planet. It also has Sand Dunes National Park, one of the only sandboarding and sandsledding destinations on the planet. Slalom down the granular slopes like some diabolical combination of Jean-Claude Killy and Lawrence of Arabia. Hit the dunes early in the morning or late in the evening, lest you roast in the 150° midday heat. And don’t forget the lip balm.

 

 

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Simon Russell  

Cold Storage

Cold Storage

The upper regions of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park have over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow, providing a year-round paradise for hearty souls who consider ice camping a pleasure. If you’re going to stay the night on the mountain, securely lock your vittles to keep them from the clutches of foxes and other aggressive winter wildlife. 960 1280

Peter Haley  

Take in the Lights

Take in the Lights

Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park sits just below the Canadian border and offers campers a ringside seat to the Northern Lights. Voyageurs encompasses 270 campsites only accessible by watercraft, but we recommend the remote Echo Lake Campground for best visibility. Check a variety of weather services to determine your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. 960 1280

Steve Burns  

Yosemite Gliding

Yosemite Gliding

It may seem crazy, but people have been leaping off Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for decades. Hang gliding was once sanctioned and overseen by park employees. These days the private Yosemite Hang Gliding Association coordinates it. 960 1280

Celso Diniz  

The Rafters

The Rafters

If a weekend of seething whitewater just doesn’t cut it anymore, try an eight-day Grand Canyon raft trip down the Colorado River. There are a host of operators who will happily guide you down 200 miles of rapids. By the end of it, you’ll have seen Native-American ruins, mile-high cliff walls and countless eagles. 960 1280

  

Hit the Heights

Hit the Heights

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park boasts rock formations that will set a climber’s mouth to watering. The 415-square-mile park is a full-service climbing destination, featuring opportunities for scaling rock, wall, ice and snow. Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak are favorites of local and international climbers. Whether you are an experienced sport climber or a beginning boulderer, be safe and leave no trace of your visit.

 

 

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Forest Woodward  

Lost in America

Lost in America

It makes sense that America’s largest national park is in Alaska, its largest state. Wrangell-Saint Elias stretches across 13,200,000 acres. You could fit Yellowstone, Everglades, and Death Valley inside it, and still have room for Denali, the third largest park (also in Alaska) at 6,075,030 acres. 960 1280

  

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River

In addition to being the most popular hike in Zion National Park, the Narrows has something for every ability level over its 16 miles. The trail follows the Virgin River, which is convenient during the summer months, since you’ll be at least ankle-deep most of the time. If it starts to rain, head for high ground; flash floods are common and have a tendency to drop by without calling first.  960 1280

  

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Get lost exploring Point Reyes's narrow stretches of sand and over 1,500 protected species of plants and animals. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Golden Gate National Rec Area, California

Golden Gate National Rec Area, California

Go for the majestic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, stay for the people watching. Surfers, dog walkers, fishermen and moms with jogging strollers are all drawn to the beach at former airfield Crissy Field. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California

Float down the Merced River when temps soar in the summer and pull off for a picnic at one of the 2 main beaches, Cathedral or Sentinel. 960 1280

  

Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands

Turquoise water and gleaming white beaches at a national park? That's what you'll find if you venture outside of the US. The Virgin Islands National Park is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Trunk Bay. 960 1280

Ben Whitney, Wikimedia Commons  

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It's not easy to get to most Colorado River beaches, but consider a several-day rafting trip the highlight of your trip. Before you dive in you should know the water rarely gets above 60 degrees, but you probably won't mind in 100-degree heat. 960 1280

Al_HikesAZ, flickr  

Santa Monica Mountains National Rec Area, California

Santa Monica Mountains National Rec Area, California

Just 10 miles up the coast from Malibu, you'll find surfers, sunbathers and sea caves tucked along the rocky coasts and sandstone cliffs. 960 1280

Doug Dolde, Wikimedia Commons  

Glen Canyon National Rec Area, Utah/Arizona

Glen Canyon National Rec Area, Utah/Arizona

Set among the red rocks, Lake Powell is perfect for water sports and cruising around coves in your boat. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park, Washington

If you're not blown away by the rocky sea stacks at the Point of Arches, at low tide check out the glowing tidal pools full of neon pink anemones and orange sea stars. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Filled with lighthouses, quaint towns and picturesque beaches, Cape Cod is postcard-ready -- the only thing missing is you. 960 1280

Anne Homyak, flickr  

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Home to the tallest US mountain on the Atlantic, the rocky coast of Maine lures people to hike granite peaks, observe the wildlife, bike historic carriage roads or simply relax in the resort town of Bar Harbor. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island conjures up images of wild horses, salt marshes and sandy beaches -- and because it's a protected national seashore that's exactly what you'll find. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Most of Hawaii's national parks protect volcanoes, but Haleakala or "House of the Sun" also features a beach of basalt stones and breathtaking waterfalls. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park, California

A herd of Roosevelt elk is often seen in the meadow near the Gold Bluffs Beach campground in a 10-mile stretch of northwestern California beach and sand dunes. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Biscayne is for serious water lovers since it is made up of only 5% land -- mostly coral reefs and shoreline. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Channel Islands National Park, California

Channel Islands National Park, California

Getting away from it all will take roughly an hour on a catamaran from the Southern California mainland, but then you'll be free to kayak, snorkel or swim to your heart’s content. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island is the largest sea island and home to the ruins of Dungeness Manor, originally constructed in 1803. 960 1280

Jon Dawson, flickr  

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