There are 63 amazing national parks in the United States. All have their impressive charms. But you’ve only got a couple of summer months to get to some of them before school starts back.
Nature site Earth Trekkers whittled the list of parks down to the 12 they believe would be ideal if you’re bringing the kids along.
Essentially, they define kid-friendly national parks as ones that are easy to get to, and once there, offer amazing sites and adventures that kids can handle, featuring hiking trails and other escapades that are big enough to challenge and excite them without being overly difficult.
Check out the list below, and have a great summer!
The Grand Canyon - Arizona
Arguably the most famous of all the U.S. national parks, the overwhelming, awe-inspiring site alone will make it a memorable trip. But there are also hiking and biking trails along the South Rim, outdoor IMAX movie screenings, and much more.
Everglades National Park - Florida
It's one of the largest national parks. If you stick to the east side of it, you can fit a lot of fun into one day. Famous for the wild animals – like alligators you might see on the hiking trails, and the manatees at the Flamingo Visitor Center – there are wild airboat rides and more fun features that will wow your children.
Arches National Park - Utah
The first and most beautifully obvious feature here are the enormous odd-shaped rocks that give the park its name. Walking in and around Balanced Rock, Widows Arch, and Double Arch is impressive enough, but you can take longer hikes around some of the other eye-popping stones that cover the park’s landscape. Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park are nearby to explore too.
Yellowstone National Park - northwestern Wyoming/southern Montana
One of the most famous and incredible parks to add to any bucket list – with kids or not – is Yellowstone. It sits on top of a supervolcano, and features the highest concentration of geothermal features anywhere on Earth! Old Faithful – the world’ most famous geyser – is there of course, but hike around and you’ll pass other geysers, hot springs, and bubbling pits of mud. Not to mention the abundant wildlife, including the largest free roaming bison herd in the world. The word “Coooooool” will rise out of your kids' mouths every other minute.
Joshua Tree National Park - California
As you walk around the doable hiking trails, it will be the Dr. Seuss-like trees that your kids will notice first and foremost. But there’s also Heart Rock and Skull Rock, and endless amounts of interesting plants that thrive in the Mojave Desert. The more adventures of your brood should love the appropriately named Hall of Horrors slot canyon.
Olympic National Park - Washington
If the orange and burning red hues of a desert-dry park aren’t your thing, check out this park that offers lush green vistas, snow-capped peaks, rainforests, and even beaches. While it’s not far from Seattle, it is a huge forest to try to cover, but its ecological diversity will keep even the most restless child’s attention.
Great Sand Dunes - Colorado
If you think the idea of “just sand” sounds limited, think again. Earth Trekker insists that, “Never have we heard so much laughter and delight from children than at this park.” Playing and romping around in the sand along hiking trails will amuse kids for hours; and for slightly older kids and adults, sandboarding or sledding is readily available. It’s not an enormous park, so you can make it through in time to sit down and enjoy the legendary sunsets.
Bryce Canyon - Utah
As Earth Trekker states, it’s almost like this park was designed with kids in mind. It’s on the small scale, so they won’t get too tired, and the colorful, eye-popping rock formations offer fascinating discovery on hikes.
Carlsbad Caverns - New Mexico
You can duck out of the blazing sun at this incredible underground landscape. Located inside the Guadalupe Mountains, the park is an underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites, stalagmites, and dripstones of various kinds. Seeing the amazed look of your kids’ faces will be half the fun of this alien landscape-like adventure. An elevator helps you back up at the end of your visit. And once out, wait around for the huge flock of bats that come swooping out from the natural entrance every night (May - October).
Glacier National Park - Montana
For sheer, mind-blowing beauty, you’d be hard pressed to beat this park. Massive mountains flow down into gorgeous fields of wildflowers. Alpine lakes with frequent waterfalls abound. And you’ll probably spot some of the larger mountain wildlife of the area, like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bears. While the reflective beauty sounds like this experience would be more for parents, there’s loads to do with the kids. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever do. Of course there are many hiking trails, and you can kayak or do lovely boat tours.
Death Valley National Park - California
Jarring juxtapositions of sand dunes with huge mountains and the Bad Water Basin – the lowest spot in the United States – mean you might get whiplash trying to take in all the spectacular panoramas here. Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View offer amazing views, then you can hike down into the mudstone hills of the Badlands. The star-filled skies at night alone are worth the trip. Admittedly it’s a great winter or spring visit, as the temps are a little cooler.
White Sands National Park - New Mexico
There’s pure white sand, and you can sled on it. Yeah, your kids will be intrigued. White Sands is home to the largest gypsum dunefield in the world, making it a stunning place to explore for kids and adults. It’s a completely doable day trip – one road runs through the park, and only takes about 20 minutes to traverse. But there are short nature trails and lots of places to go sledding.
To learn more about these parks and nearby parks that surround them, check Earth Trekker’s list here.