Of course, all of our National Parks are incredible in their own ways, but there are some that are especially well-suited for children. And, of course, the Junior Ranger program is a must regardless of which park or parks you choose to visit with your children. Here are five of our absolute favorite National Parks for explore as a family.
1. Glacier National Park. Between loads of family-friendly hikes, scenic boat cruises on Lake McDonald and horseback riding along the wilderness trails in the park, there’s almost too much to do as a family. And, of course, the Red Bus Tour is a must for enjoying the scenery along the park’s windy roads.
On the West Glacier side of the park, stop in Discovery Cabin at Apgar Village for kid-friendly fun, as well as well as family activity backpacks that can be checked out for 24 hours. Inside the backpacks, you’ll find naturalist guides, binoculars, a compass, a guide to animal tracks and a naturalist notebook.
2. Grand Canyon National Park. When you first arrive, it’s a must for you and your kids to walk along the Rim Trail if only to stare out into the vastness of the Grand Canyon. It’s an easy .7 mile walk between Mather Point and Yavapai Point where you’ll find the kid-friendly Yavapai Geology Museum.
Bring sandwiches to eat along the rim (you can also pick some up at the coffee shop at Mather Point) and take part in one of multiple ranger-led programs just for kids. Plan to use the free park shuttle to get around the park. It’s definitely the easiest way for little legs to get to all the scenic viewpoints in the park.
3. Yellowstone National Park. Of course, kids will love watching Old Faithful erupt, but while in the area, walk along the one-mile boardwalk through Upper Geyser Basin to see a variety of hot springs and geysers, including Morning Glory Pool (stay on the marked trails).
Check out a Young Scientist Toolkit, which includes a thermometer, stopwatch and more to investigate the area around Old Faithful. Kids can even earn a Young Scientist patch or keychain. Other favorites at Yellowstone include the bubbling mud pots, like Artists Paint Pots, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park. Download the free geocaching mobile app and hunt for geocaches as part of the Across the Divide GeoTour. Cross the Continental Divide as you and your kids make your way between Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park in Colorado.
Keep your eyes open for monthly full moon hikes and walks. These popular adventures are a fun way to explore the parks and wildlife as you seek out the best views of the full moon. Also, look for wildlife, like elk and mule deer, which are often spotted all around the park during the day.
5. Yosemite National Park. You and your kids will love hiking the trails, splashing in waterfalls and making stops at multiple scenic lookout points, like Tunnel View and El Capitan. The open-air tram tour that departs from Yosemite Valley is especially valuable for learning about the history of the park from park rangers.
Hike to Yosemite Falls then have a picnic at Swinging Bridge where there’s plenty of space for kids to run around. In the evening, look for a one-hour Junior Ranger Campfire at the Happy Isles Nature Center. It’s a fun way to end a busy day in the park and a great way to learn more from the resident park rangers.
Regardless of the National Parks you plan to explore, make sure to ask about the Junior Ranger program. Every park has an activity booklet, which, when completed, will earn kids a fun badge or patch. They’ll even get sworn in by a park ranger as an official Junior Ranger for the park.
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