Raise your hand if you’d like a break from family vacations that involve a long drive to a crowded amusement park and about 2,000 queries into “how many more miles till we get there?” Imagine going somewhere Mom and Dad can enjoy spectacular views, the kids have plenty of fresh air to run around in, and you all might spot a moose or bear off in the distance. That’s what you’ll find at U.S. National Parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) boasts an ever expanding list of 423 different areas that span more than 85 million acres in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Many offer plenty of family fun, ranging from games and crafts to boating, hiking, swimming, and camping.
Whether it’s a vacation, weekend getaway, or day trip, the following is a list of some of the best national parks for family outings. Before heading out, be sure to check the NPS website at www.nps.gov for up to date information on opening dates and hours, entrance requirements, contact info, and COVID-19 restrictions (if applicable).
1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A visit to the Grand Canyon is on the bucket list of many Americans, so why not experience it with the whole family? Visitors of all ages will marvel at the sight of the iconic canyon, and there are numerous ways to see it. One of the best family options is the Desert View Drive along the southern rim of the canyon, which features a 25-mile stretch with six viewpoints and four picnic areas. If you’re planning a long stay, numerous lodging and camping options are available at the park.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
This is one of the most-visited parks in the U.S. thanks to its scenic views and multitude of hiking and camping options. Families will enjoy the park’s waterfall hikes, swimming holes, horseback rides, wildlife, and biking trails. You can also go tubing at Deep Creek, with rentals as low as $5 per day.
3. Yosemite National Park, California
Located in eastern California along the Nevada border, Yosemite covers 747,000 acres and features an abundance of natural wonders. In addition to waterfalls, granite cliffs, scenic valleys, and clear streams, you might see wildlife such as black bears, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, and bighorn sheep. The park’s customized Great Yosemite Family Adventure experience lets families navigate three miles of trails using a hand-held GPS, all while learning about local history and hunting for secret treasures.
4. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Another popular destination for families, Grand Teton offers scenic drives on Signal Mountain Summit Road and a chance to climb 800 feet for 360-degree views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole. Or, you can take the winding Jenny Lake Scenic Drive that follows the shore of glacier-formed Jenny Lake. If you’d prefer to see the park on foot, Grand Teton has numerous hiking trails and picnic areas.
5. Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades is home to the biggest subtropical wilderness area in the U.S., which means your family will have ample opportunity to see alligators, manatees, and Florida panthers among the swamps and wetlands. Adventure-minded families can take an airboat to reach the most remote points of the park. You can also rent bikes for a trek around the paved, 15-mile Shark Valley loop.
6. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
This is a good destination if you want to catch a glimpse of wildlife you don’t see every day. Nearly two dozen species of seabirds live among the park’s icy fjords and rocky coastline. Boat tours are available that let you see otters and sea lions. Family-friendly hiking trails and ranger-led walks are also available.
7. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
The main attractions here are the bright canyons and the Waterpocket Fold, a geographic landform that stretches 100 miles between Thousand Lake Mountain and Lake Powell. Families will enjoy the Ripple Rock Nature Center, which offers activities such as spinning wool, grinding cornmeal, and playing with animal puppets. The center is open from late May through early September. Families also can visit orchards to pick cherries, apricots, peaches, and apples alongside wild mule deer.
8. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah covers nearly 200,000 acres in central and western Virginia, including parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s ideal for a day trip because of the scenic drives, which explode with colorful foliage during the fall and a rainbow of flowers in the spring. You can also pull off and hike to waterfalls, or visit the Luray Caverns for a closer look at stalactites and stalagmites.
9. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Most everyone knows about Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, which has been spraying its hot water regularly for at least 150 years. That’s the most famous attraction at this 3,500-square-mile park, but hardly the only one. Families have numerous hiking, camping, lodging, watersports, and picnicking options. Popular hikes include the 3.8-mile Emerald Lake trail, which passes three lakes; and the mile-long Sundance Mountain trail, which offers views at 12,466 feet.
10. Acadia National Park, Maine
The whole family will enjoy the ocean views available at Acadia, located off the coast of Mount Desert Island. You can hike or drive up Cadillac Mountain, which reaches an elevation of 1,528 feet. If you get there early enough you’ll be in the first place in the U.S. that sees the sunrise every morning during the fall and winter. Kid friendly activities include swimming, biking, and viewing marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and whales.