Do you long for more adventure and a desire to explore nature and natural wonders with your family? Visiting a national park is a great vacation choice for many families. If you are wanting to plan a trip, learn about the best national parks for kids.
National Parks for Families
National Parks are are some of the best places to take the whole family because there is literally something for all ages when you visit. Your entire family, from young kids to older kids and adults will have a great time in the outdoors.
Some of the sites at these parks you will never be able to see anywhere else, at least in the areas where you live. When you are finally there looking upon them, you will feel as if you are in the scene of a movie. Many older movies were actually once filmed in national parks. A trip to a national park can be a once in a lifetime experience and will create memories your family will never forget.
Exploring the Great Outdoors
Exploring the great outdoors is such a wonderful way to stay active as a family. Many of the national parks on our list have short and easy hikes that are relaxing and great for exploring with young children. There are longer, more strenuous hikes for very active families with older children.
Being outside can bring an instant calm and relaxation to everyone that is there. You will notice there is less bickering and whining when your kids are outdoors exploring and being active.
You can see amazing sites on hiking trails, take nice picnic lunches, and spend some quality time as a family. Everyone will enjoy taking in the natural wonders, as well as the protected nature and wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else.
National Parks are Educational
One of the best things about the national parks is how educational they are. Each of these parks have a visitor center, which is one of the first stops you should make with your kids. This is where you can pick up maps, pamphlets and free brochures on the ecology and wildlife in the area.
There are also movies, hands-on activities, park ranger talks, nature tables and displays. The visitor center is also great for a break in the middle of a hot day, or to end your day. Some of them even have ice cream, treats and cold drinks!
Junior Ranger Program
You can even get a free activity packet to become a junior park ranger. Each park has a Junior Ranger Activity Program that is unique to that specific park. The activity book will guide your children through different activities located in the park. It will challenge them to look for birds and wildlife and to be good stewards of the park and conservation.
Once they complete the activities and bring it back to the visitor center they will receive a badge. Some parks have multiple badges that you can complete.
You can turn a simple family vacation into an amazing educational experience with just a little research before you go.
Best National Parks for Kids
If you are looking for your next family vacation or road trip, you are going to enjoy this list of the best national parks for kids. These parks are all full of wonders to see, wildlife, and lots of fun activities for the whole family.
Some of these parks are the most visited, and some even hit the least visited list, but they are all spectacular in their own way. We will cover 21 of the best parks that you will want to learn about and add to your bucket list to visit one day.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is considered the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast. It is located in Maine, along the Atlantic Coastline and protects the rocky headlands on the coast. It is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the United States.
One of the main attractions to the park is the preserved historical carriage roads. These roads cannot be driven on by a car and must be travelled by foot, horseback riding or biking.
Don’t forget to check out Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest mountain point on the East Coast with some amazing views.
Learn more about the history of the park and the carriage roads, discover even more fun things to do with kids, and learn about the wildlife that resides here. There are also free printables and unit studies as well as virtual tours.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and is called the Land of Stone and Light. The rugged natural beauty of this park brings visitors from all over the world. It really looks like something out of a movie with all of the valleys, spired rock formations, pinnacles and sharp buttes.
Children will be fascinated by the fossils that can be found here because it contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Skeletons of three-toed horses and saber tooth cats have been found here. Fossil Exhibit Trail is a great place for small children.
Make sure to visit the fossil preparation lab. This is where you will be able to see real paleontologists working in a lab on fossils that were found in the park.
This park is home to Bighorn sheep that can be seen climbing all over the different cliffs and mountain peaks. You will also see American Bison, Black-footed Ferret, and Pronghorns in the prairies.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is located in Southwest Texas in a remote area in the middle of nowhere. It is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Texas.
There are many undeveloped areas in the park that are perfect for adventurers that enjoy backcountry hiking and backpacking. If you teens that enjoy long hikes and carrying a pack with a tent and supplies, this would be a fun adventure for them.
You can also take day river trips and float through beautiful, limestone canyons on the famous Rio Grande.
Big Bend is also a certified dark sky park. This means that the environment of the park is protected from any outside light pollution. There are star gazing programs, and opportunities to enjoy the big, beautiful, Texas sky with your family.
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is located in Southern Florida, just South of Miami in the Florida Keys. This watery wonderland protects emerald islands and coral reefs. If your family is planning on taking a vacation to Florida, this is a must see.
Biscayne National Park is the perfect place for water activities like boating, snorkeling, diving, fishing and lobstering. You can even rent paddle boards and kayaks.
They have guided eco-tours that will take you to colorful coral reefs. You can even go snorkeling at a real shipwreck. There are 6 different shipwrecks that can be explored by snorkeling and diving.
Kids will enjoy snorkeling and seeing the fish and marine life in the crystal clear waters of the Florida Keys.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southwestern Utah. It is a smaller park that is easy to navigate with children.
The main feature of this park is Bryce Canyon, which isn’t actually a canyon, but a collection of natural amphitheaters that come out of the ground.
This park is best known for the largest concentration of Hoodoos found anywhere on Earth. Hoodoos are irregular columns of rock that form red rocks and pink cliffs that protrude out of the valley. They are beautiful in the summer sun and covered in snow in the winter.
Children will enjoy the video program at the visitor center and the daily geology talks that are held at Inspiration Point by the park rangers.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park encompasses 5 different islands off the coast of Southern California, near Los Angeles.
This park is a marine sanctuary that protects the marine life and water 6 miles around the entire park. There is a campground located on each island that you take a boat to. Once there you can explore each island with hiking trails and its own beach.
Families enjoy being out on the water, taking easy hikes around the beach and snorkeling and scuba diving here. You can take a boat excursion to see humpback whales and dolphins feeding in the waters. There are many different tide pools and flora and fauna to see all over the islands.
You may even be lucky enough to see an island fox. These are docile little foxes that aren’t afraid of humans. The island fox lives on 6 of the 8 channel islands that are found in California. It is the only place in the entire world where this species lives.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is on the border of California and Nevada, east of the Sierra Nevada.
Death Valley National Park is the hottest and driest place on Earth. It is also the lowest national park in the United States. Death Valley sets the world record high temperature of 134 degrees. This was recorded in July of 1913. Summer temperatures average around 120 degrees daily, though the winter months are very pleasant and cooler.
Even though Death Valley National Park is a hot wilderness desert area, it is full of back country roads, stunning places and views of the desert.
If your family loves Star Wars you will be excited to find out that many scenes from the the first movie, Star Wars: A New Hope, were filmed in Death Valley. Take a guided driving audio tour to see and hear about the different filming locations throughout the park.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is located in interior Alaska. The park encompasses the highest portion of the Alaska Range. The centerpiece of the park is Denali Mountain, formerly called Mount McKinley. Denali Mountain is 20,310-ft. high and the tallest peak in North America.
Summer is the perfect time for biking, exploring, backpacking, and mountain climbing. Winter activities are popular, and many families enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, and even dog sledding.
Denali National Park is a tundra full of spruce forests and glaciers. It is home to large wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. The best way to visit this park with children is by booking a bus tour that will take you to the most popular spots in the park.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park has 1.5 million acres of tropical swamp land in South Florida. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and the third largest national park.
If you and your family have ever wanted to explore swampy wetlands, you are going have the best time here. Just don’t forget to pack the bug spray! The best time to visit this park is during the dry season, which is November to April. These are also the cooler months, but in the Florida swamp there will still be bugs no matter the time of year.
One of the best things to do in this park is to visit the swamp by air boat. Air boat rides are fun for the whole family and a must do here. They take you through canals and open water areas where you will get to see many different animals, birds and lots of alligators.
Make sure to hit the visitor centers. The Flamingo Visitor Center is the best chance to spot manatees and American crocodiles. Yes, even crocodiles can be found in the Everglades. It is actually the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators live together.
You can also catch movies, learn about the Florida Ecosystems, use the bathroom, and get cold drinks at the different visitor centers.
Everglades National Park Classroom Virtual Learning Experience
There is a classroom virtual learning experience you can sign up for. Watch live as Park Rangers are hiking, slogging, and wildlife-watching, bringing curriculum-based programs into your classroom.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is located in Southeast Alaska, west of Juneau. It is surrounded by water, mountains and ice. The only way to visit Glacier Bay National Park is by boat or airplane. Most of the visitors to this park come from cruise ships, so if you are ever taking your family on an Alaskan cruise, you will most likely make a visit here.
Glacier Bay National Park is a biosphere reserve and a world heritage site. It contains some of the most impressive tidal glaciers in the world. There are more than 50 named glaciers located in the park.
Glacier Bay is home to puffins, eagles, bears and whales. It is a great location for watching whales and marine wildlife that you wouldn’t normally get to see anywhere else. This Alaskan wilderness is the perfect place to take in the beauty of nature.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in Northern Montana and is called the Crown of the Continent. It is one of the most beautiful national parks with the ice capped mountains, waterfalls and fields of wild flowers in the summer months.
The wildlife that can be found here are bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears and even grizzly bears.
Visiting with kids is easy when you take a scenic drive on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which one of the most scenic drives in the United States. You can stop along the way to catch some beautiful overlooks. There are also some short, easy hikes to do with small children.
Find out more about the history of the park, how it came to be, and the Native Americans that lived here. Discover some fun, interesting facts and take a few virtual tours with your kids.
Grand Canyon National Park
The number one attraction of Grand Canyon National Park is the name itself. The Grand Canyon is a gorge that the Colorado River flows through. Families love coming to visit here and see the natural wonder.
There are family friendly biking trails that take you on the rim of the canyon. You can hike down into the canyon and even ride a donkey if you wish.
Grand Canyon National Park has a wonderful Junior Ranger Program that kids can participate in that provides many educational opportunities.
Download maps, trip guides, as well as unit studies, coloring pages and worksheets to help your kids learn more about the Grand Canyon.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the South Eastern shore on the big island of Hawaii. It is a very special place because it is an active volcanic park with real volcanoes that can erupt at any time.
The main attractions to this park are the 2 live active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Kids will enjoy watching hot lava that pours into the Pacific Ocean. It really is a sight to see.
If you take a trip to Hawaii with your family this park needs to be on your bucket list. Families enjoy hiking over lava rocks, just be careful, as many of the hikes are not kid friendly, but they are worth it. There are short 1-3 mile hikes that are perfect for families to do together.
This is a tropical paradise where you can see beautiful tropical birds and a lush, tropical landscape. It really is like something from a movie.
Learn even more about this wonderful park with fun facts, free printables and unit studies. There are lots of links to information on the active volcanoes in the park, as well as virtual field trips.
Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is located on the surrounding waters of Lake Superior in Michigan. It is a rugged, isolated island, and the only way to visit it is by a boat or sea plane. It is actually one of the least visited national parks in the USA.
Older kids will get excited for the rugged, adventure feeling of going to a large island in the middle of a lake. There are also 400 tiny islands that can be explored by boat from this one main island. Scuba diving is popular here because the waters are so cold. You can see some shipwrecks that are very well preserved.
This is a difficult park to access since you can not drive to it. If you want to visit the neighboring islands by kayak you need to be an experienced boater. This would be a fun place to take adventurous teens, but probably not suitable for small children because of the travel time by boat and all the walking.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is located in Montezuma, Colorado.
This park protects some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological cliff dwelling homes. It is one of the most fascinating national parks to explore due to the rich architecture and history of the people that used to have their homes built in the cliffs.
Kids will enjoy touring, exploring the cliff dwellings, and hearing about the history of the park. Many of the cliffs are accessible, and you can walk directly through them on a hike. This is another one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that is very educational.
Not only is this the largest archaeological preserve in the United States it is also an International Dark Sky Park. Make sure you stay for an evening star gazing; the sky is breathtaking.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is located in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula.
This park is unique because it has many different ecosystems and biomes in one place. There are coastal forests, lowland forests, temperate rain forests, montane forests, sub alpine forests and Alpine mountains.
There are not many roads in this park, so the best way to explore it is by hiking through the forests and exploring the different ecosystems. Don’t let that deter you from bringing your children, as there are some amazing things for kids to do here.
Your children can become ocean stewards while learning about the coastal system of the park. The Olympic National Park Ocean Stewards Junior Ranger program is a great booklet full of activities that your kids can compete. Get your completed guide signed off to receive an Ocean Steward badge.
Don’t forget to borrow a discovery backpack from the visitor center to help get your kids excited about exploring and hiking. This backpack has field guides, binoculars, a safety whistle, nature journal, interactive field guide and worksheets.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.
These parks are located side by side. They are considered two separate parks but you only need admission to one to visit both of them. Sequoia National Park is 631 square miles; Kings Canyon National Park was established 50 years later in and is 722 square miles.
The parks are known as the Land of Giants because it is home to the giant sequoia trees in the forests. There are some amazing hiking trails for the whole family to wander through the giant forests and experience the trees up close. These trees are so big that you can even drive a car through them!
Another great experience is to explore the Crystal Caves, which is a cavern made of marble. The only way to visit the cave is by signing up for a guided tour. These tours are always so educational, fun and even a little adventurous.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina on the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains are some of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and home to some amazing wildlife. You can hunt for salamanders, and you may even see coyotes, deer, black bears, bobcats, and elk.
This park is one of the most family friendly national parks. You can hike to a waterfall, and there are many perfect spots set aside just to take a picnic. You can even take a bike ride or auto tour of Cades Cove. In the summer you can go tubing down the river that runs through the park.
There are many junior ranger programs activities here. Kids can get badges by participating in blacksmithing, creating an old fashioned toy, taking hay rides, and more.
Monarch butterflies do their annual migration here from August to October. If you are studying insects and come during those months, you won’t want to miss it as they fly through the higher elevations in the park.
Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is located in St. Thomas, in the United States Virgin Islands.
People visit this park for the absolutely stunning white sand beaches and boating and snorkeling opportunities in the turquoise blue waters. Kids swill enjoy exploring the coral reefs and seeing iguanas and tropical creatures they can’t see anywhere else.
Besides the water being the main feature, there is some amazing history here. You can explore 200-year-old ruins from when Danish plantation owners lived and owned slaves.
Take a hike through the forest to find Petroglyphs made by the ancient Taino Indians. The petroglyphs are beautiful carved images and they are located at the base of a waterfall surrounded by tropical vegetation.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is mainly located in Wyoming, but it is also located in Montana and Idaho. A national park that covers 3 states is a pretty big park.
This is the one of the most exciting national parks to take your family to. Kids will love that the park sits on top of a super volcano. One of the main sights you want to see is Old Faithful, that erupts at least once every two hours.
The geothermal features of this park are absolutely fascinating with bubbling mud pits and hot springs in vibrant colors. There also close to 300 waterfalls located all throughout the park.
If your kids enjoy looking for animals when you travel, they are going to be so excited to visit Yellowstone National Park. It is one of the best parks for wildlife sightings. You will see roaming bison herds, elk, pronghorn, coyotes and bears. There are even some wolf packs that call the park home.
Dig deeper into learning about Yellowstone with these free printables and resources. Discover fun facts about the park and learn about geysers and the wolves that reside here. You can even go on virtual tours and view webcams of the different areas.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in Northern California in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
It is nicknamed the Land of Giants because there are so many giant things to see here. It best known for it’s tall granite cliffs, and rock sculptures made purely from granite rock. It is also home to giant sequoia trees that can get to be over 300 feet tall.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. Seven major waterfalls in the park are located in Yosemite Valley. Your whole family will enjoy hiking the valley and looking for the different waterfalls.
Experienced and adventurous mountain climbers can apply for a permit to hike the Half Dome with cables that are drilled into the rock.
Check out all these fun facts about Yosemite that kids are going to love. There are free printables, worksheets, unit studies and lesson plans to learn more about the park. There are even park webcams and virtual tours.
Learn even more about the national parks when you use our National Parks Notebook, a Notebook Companion™ to National Parks of the U.S.A.
National Parks of the U.S.A. is a wonderful resource to use for a park study. It is full of facts about the flora and fauna that are unique to each park and has wonderful illustrations. This book covers 21 different parks and is broken down by region. There are maps and lots of information about the wildlife and natural attractions that can be found within the different parks listed.
National Parks Notebook is an amazing way for your kids to document everything they have learned while studying about the national parks using the book as a guide.
Let’s take a look at how the notebook is laid out.
There is no teacher guide required, all you need is your copy of National Parks of the U.S.A. and the Notebook Companion™. The notebook tells your children exactly what pages they need to read in the book. After they read those pages, they begin by answering the reading comprehension questions for what they just read in National Parks of the U.S.A.
Below the questions is a mapping exercise to color in the state where the park is located. This is a great way to incorporate some U.S. geography while you are learning about the different parks and their locations.
Next, your children will get a chance to do some notebooking. They get to write, sketch and record information about the plants, animals and wildlife that can be found at that particular park. The notebooking pages are such a great addition to help your kids create a very nice keepsake of everything that they have learned in their studies.
The National Parks Notebook is 173 pages printed in black and white, and comes with 26 pages of colorful fact cards.
National Park Fact Cards Included
The National Park Fact Cards that come with National Parks Notebook accompany the 21 parks that are found in the companion book.
There are two different sets of cards included and they are both set up to be printed in duplex. The first one has the real life photographs of the park on the front and the facts are on the back of the card.
The second set of cards have blank lines on the back of them. This is so your children can copy the facts in their own handwriting. This also helps with retention, and they can fill them out while they are reviewing and memorizing the facts.
These flash cards are fun for your kids to work on fact memorization while they are learning about each park. They include the important facts about each park, such as when it was founded, where it is located, and what can be found there.
You can store the National Park Fact Cards in a notebook or box, and pull them out to challenge your kids. See if they can spout off the facts as soon as they see the picture of the park. You can turn it into a family friendly competition and game too.
Studying about the national parks with your kids is a great addition to a United States geography study. It’s also a fun unit study or nature study itself. There are so many ways that you can include learning about national parks in your homeschool.
The National Park Notebook is a great way to keep you on track without any extra planning since the resource is so open-and-go. If your kids are able to read on their own, they can do this with minimal help from the parent. You can choose to go down the rabbit hole, and explore each park further on your own.
You may be surprised at how much you enjoy researching these wonderful places. Before you know it, you may be ready to plan your next road trip or family vacation to visit one of the national parks in the U.S.A.