BY Amanda Adler — When planning a national park visit for your family, you may feel overwhelmed with options and unsure what types of activities your kids will enjoy. While each of the 63 national parks in the U.S. offers experiences to delight visitors of all ages, some parks have more to offer the younger generations than others.
Whether your family is looking to spy on wildlife, take in epic scenery, or experience big adventures, these kid-friendly national parks won’t disappoint
Grand Canyon National Park
The famous, sweeping vistas of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park are regarded as a “must-see” by many, making it a natural choice for your family’s first national park visit. The park’s South Rim is where you’ll find the most amenities; making this your home base will put you within easy reach of kid-friendly dining and accommodations. While a journey down into the canyon isn’t advised for novice hikers, the paved Rim Trail offers plenty of canyon views and easy access for families—including any four-legged family members.
Camping inside the park at Mather Campground allows you the prime opportunity to take in sunrise and sunset over the canyon with ease. For families who desire a robust array of kid-friendly amenities, try the award-winning Williams-Circle Pines KOA, which offers playgrounds, miniature golf, go-karts, and more.
Wind Cave National Park
Another fun, and often underrated, experience can be found at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Guided tours through this breathtaking cave system range from 60 to 90 minutes, so your little one’s patience (and attention span) won’t be tested. The 75-minute Natural Entrance Tour allows you to see exceptional boxwork and cave popcorn formations, sure to pique everyone’s interest.
Don’t miss experiences outside the cave as well—the park offers miles of hiking trails through prairie vistas and ponderosa forests surrounded by Black Hills scenery. Watch out for bison, mountain lions, and prairie dogs on the 1-mile Rankin Ridge Nature Trail, which takes you to the highest point in the park and offers views of the surrounding area.
Stay at Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch to be close to South Dakota’s iconic presidential landmark while also enjoying a vast array of amenities, including on-site stables, pools and water play areas, mini golf, a rodeo, and more. Or choose a more laid-back camping experience at Blue Bell Campground, located within the serene setting of Custer State Park.
For Unique Landscapes
Petrified Forest National Park
As the name suggests, Petrified Forest National Park offers a chance to see a vast collection of colorful petrified wood. But the park’s location in Arizona’s Painted Desert allows visitors to also take in a striking landscape of multi-hued pigment rock. Hikes throughout the park are generally short and manageable, making this a perfect option for those traveling with kids in tow. Trek to Puerco Pueblo to see 600-year-old petroglyphs and journey through the Crystal Forest Trail to search for crystals among the petrified wood deposits.
Camp at the Holbrook-Petrified Forest KOA and your kids will delight in the 200-year-old petrified log found at the entrance. Or continue down Route 66 to Meteor Crater RV Park to stay close to a meteorite impact crater that’s truly a sight to behold.
Death Valley National Park
At Death Valley National Park, your kids can slide down the towering Mesquite Sand Dunes, hike through the aptly named Golden Canyon, and marvel at the salt polygon patterns found at Badwater Basin. The park’s large size provides a variety of natural features to see and offers a lesson in the types of life that flourish in an extreme climate. The landscape is hauntingly beautiful, and its remote setting allows you to truly unplug and enjoy time together.
Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska, so you’ll want to stay inside the park to maximize your time. Furnace Creek Campground and Stovepipe Wells Campground offer a quiet respite close to the park’s main sights.
For Animal Encounters
Yellowstone National Park
The iconic geothermal features at Yellowstone National Park make this destination an easy choice for families. But the near-certain chance of seeing animals such as elk, bison, or mule deer is an equally compelling reason to take your kids to Yellowstone. Drive through the Hayden or Lamar valleys and tackle family-friendly hikes to the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You’re sure to come away with countless memories of the critters you encountered along the way.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Yellowstone, the first national park in the U.S. Throughout 2022, the park will play host to a multi-month commemoration event, offering opportunities to reflect on the past, highlighting successes in the ecosystem, and opening a dialogue on how to prepare for the Yellowstone of tomorrow.
Stay inside the park at Grant Campground, located near Yellowstone Lake and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Or book a waterfront RV site at Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park for breathtaking views in an equally serene setting outside the park’s north entrance. For a glamping option, consider Under Canvas Yellowstone, which offers family-sized tents and kids’ programming.
Everglades National Park
Imagine speeding over the surface of the water in an airboat, twisting and gliding through mangrove tunnels. The boat skids to a stop and suddenly you see it: a family of hungry alligators lurking in the grasslands. If your kids are intrigued by creepy crawlies and scaly reptiles, take a trip to Florida’s Everglades National Park. Climb to the top of the Shark Valley Observation Tower for a 360-degree view of the glades, then walk, bike, or ride a tram along a 15-mile loop that showcases some of the park’s best wildlife concentrations.
Miami Everglades Resort offers plenty of room to spread out in a location that’s also close to Miami. Or head out through the lesser-visited west entrance and make a beachy escape at Endless Summer RV Park in Naples, Florida.
Related: Top 10 things to do in Florida
For Hiking Adventures
Arches National Park
Arches National Park offers a bounty of accessible hikes to enjoy views of the park’s many namesake arch formations. A trek to Double Arch is an easy, half-mile walk that allows you to view two large arches, or opt to take a 1.9-mile hike to Landscape Arch, a thin arch with a span that’s longer than the length of a football field. This Utah park also contains other rock formations, including Balanced Rock, which looks as though its delicate placement could come crashing down at any moment.
Archview RV Resort & Campground features views of the park from your campsite and is located a quick drive away from Canyonlands National Park. Or stay closer to the town of Moab at the nicely appointed Portal RV Resort & Campground.
Glacier National Park
Those ready to tackle some longer hikes should head for Montana’s Glacier National Park. Surrounded by the northern Rocky Mountains, the park offers the opportunity to take in one of the most scenic drives in the U.S., spy moose in their natural habitat, and skip gem-colored stones across an alpine lake. But for the best views, attempt one of the park’s magnificent hikes. Kids will enjoy the views from the 5.9-mile Avalanche Lake Trail, or the shorter (but steeper) 2-mile Aster Park hike.
Many Glacier Campground is located in a popular section of the park, making it an ideal choice for those who are able to snag a spot. A private campground alternative is the newly-opened West Glacier RV Park, conveniently located near the park’s west entrance.
For Endless Activities
Big Bend National Park
Tucked along Texas’ southern border is the diverse Big Bend National Park. Here your family will find everything from sea fossils and dinosaur bones to volcanic dikes as you journey through the park’s mountain, river, and desert areas. On the 1.7-mile Santa Elena Canyon Trail you’ll travel into the mouth of the striking Santa Elena Canyon, or cross into Mexico on a rowboat at the Boquillas Crossing—just don’t forget your passport. Stroll along shady paths through Mexican pine, juniper, and oak on the moderate Chisos Basin Loop Trail and look for mountain lion tracks and agaves in bloom.
Sleep inside the park at the centrally-located Chisos Basin Campground. Or stay in the nearby town of Lajitas, Texas, at Maverick Ranch RV Park and meet the town’s mayor: a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Accessible and surrounded by endless opportunities for play, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an ultimate vacation spot for families. Yes, you’ll find kid-friendly hikes such as the Kephart Prong Trail and Porters Creek, but your kids will be equally delighted by the popular tourist attractions found in the Tennessee gateway towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Take an aerial tram up to the Ober Gatlinburg mountain resort, which offers water slides in summer and snow tubing in winter, or thrill in the many amusements at the region’s premier theme park, Dollywood.
The area surrounding the Great Smoky Mountains plays host to events throughout the year. In spring you’ll find Dollywood’s Flower & Food Festival and synchronous firefly shows, summer brings Independence Day parades, and in fall, Ober Gatlinburg gets an Oktoberfest makeover. No matter when you plan to visit, you’ll find festivals celebrating everything from BBQ to Bigfoot.
The area is overflowing with family-friendly campgrounds offering a variety of kid-approved activities on-site. The robust Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg KOA boasts a lazy river, while the newly-opened Camp Margaritaville RV Resort & Lodgeoffers stunning views and a bar that parents are sure to enjoy.
(Source: Roadtrippers Magazine. No copyright infringement intended)