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.
Rocky Mountain National ParkBudding naturalists feel right at home at Rocky Mountain National Park where the kids can join in on short, family-friendly hikes around the park. Bring along a magnifying glass to explore the plants, leaves and bugs during a stroll around Bear Lake. 960 1280
Rocky Mountain National ParkPack binoculars to get a close-up of Albert’s squirrels scurrying around the ponderosa pine forests or bighorn sheep spending a summer day at Sheep Lakes. Kids can scramble up rocks along the trail to Gem Lake or search the water under the bridge for beavers along the Beaver Boardwalk. 960 1280
Carlsbad CavernsYoung adventurers travel deep underground to explore one of the many caves at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Children must be 4 or older to participate in a basic cave tour of the Big Room. Brave souls over 12 can shimmy and crawl through a maze of narrow entryways and tunnels at Spider Cave. 960 1280
Grand Teton National ParkGrand Teton National Park caters to 8- to 12-year-olds with daily Junior Ranger programs throughout the park. Rangers keep kids busy with stories, artwork, kid-friendly hikes and scavenger hunts to uncover secrets around the park. 960 1280
Acadia National ParkAcadia National Park has laid down the law on the many ways that kids should enjoy themselves in the park, summarized in the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights. Take note of this decree, and plan for family fun in every corner of the park. Pack the bikes and helmets for a ride along the carriage road system -- flat scenic paths that are made for a 2-wheeler (training wheels optional) or the chubby tires of a jogging stroller. 960 1280
Acadia National ParkHead to the shore to enjoy a cool ocean breeze and search for marine life in the shallow tide pools. Set sail on a ranger-narrated cruise including the Dive-In Theater Cruise from May through October where real-time video technology allows passengers to watch scuba divers search the ocean floor for marine life that is then brought onboard for impromptu touch-tank experiences. 960 1280
Yellowstone National ParkAmerica’s first national park welcomes visitors to check out the hot springs, steaming geysers and extraordinary wildlife, including grizzlies, bison and elk. With the park spread out over a sprawling 2.2 million acres, it’s impossible to experience all the fun at once. 960 1280
Yellowstone National ParkAs a family, decide on the highlights to experience, like the legendary geyser Old Faithful and the wildlife-viewing at Lamar Valley. Families with children over 8 can enjoy a 2-hour horseback ride to the cookout while families with little ones can ride into the sunset aboard a horse-drawn covered wagon. 960 1280
Cape Hatteras National SeashoreDon’t worry if you’re more of a beach person than a woodsy type: There’s a national park experience waiting for your family at the national seashore at Cape Hatteras. This protected seashore is made up of narrow barrier islands along the beloved Outer Banks. Celebrate the past with a climb up a lighthouse or an evening of pirate tales with a park ranger. 960 1280
Cape Hatteras National SeashoreThere are miles of beaches for swimming, shelling, kite-flying or just chilling out and reading a book. Cruise the beach on foot or in an off-road vehicle that allows cars to leave behind the paved roads and drive the sandy shores. 960 1280
Biscayne National ParkBiscayne welcomes families with the free Family Fun Fest program, a celebration of the park’s wonders with stories, superheroes and cool park activities. The festivities take place on the second Saturday of each month from December to April. But don’t fret if you miss the fest as there are still plenty of opportunities for family-bonding in the park. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and PreserveThe 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
North Cascades National ParkWashington 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
North Cascades National ParkThe 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 ParkGreat 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 ParkStargazers 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 ParkThe 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
Dry Tortugas National ParkScuba 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
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.
Float the BorderThe 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
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.
Cold StorageThe 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
Take in the LightsMinnesota'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
Yosemite GlidingIt 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
The RaftersIf 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
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.