Even though every U.S. national park is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all for families. There are certainly things that the parks have in common with each other, but depending on which one you pick to visit you’ll have a different experience. If you’re currently planning to visit a few national parks with kids or thinking about a family bucket list of parks, here are a few tips to follow any time you visit one.
Things To Consider When Visiting National Parks With Kids
I’m a firm believer that you can visit national parks no matter what your kid’s ages are. You’ll make amazing memories when you bring them as infants and they’ll make amazing memories if you bring them as teens. There’s no bad age, but you have to plan and be prepared.
Consider How You’ll Get Around The Park
Depending on the park you pick, there are so many different ways to visit. Guests can swim, hike or drive through the parks. If you’re planning to hike as a family, consider if you need a stroller and bring one that has great suspension for off-road areas (double check that strollers are allowed first). I always traveled with a jogging stroller, when allowed, and then used a baby carrier when strollers weren’t an option.
If you’ve got kids who aren’t used to walking long distances, consider a park where you can drive through. Smoky Mountain National Park is a great choice for scenic drives and short hikes.
Grab A National Parks Passport For Multiple Visits
If your family is on a mission to visit all the national parks in the US, you must get yourself a National Parks Passport. Kids love to earn a stamp every time you get to explore a new national park. It becomes a fun bucket list game for the whole family to enjoy.
Start At The Visitor’s Center
There is always a park ranger on hand at the visitor’s center who can help to answer questions. Grab a park map and see if there are hands-on educational opportunities for the kids. Sometimes the visitor’s center acts as a little museum.
Make sure you also ask the rangers for their favorite secluded spots, photos and sunset hikes. They may know a few secrets that don’t regularly appear in guidebooks! Additionally, always ask about anything that’s a possible danger – poisonous plants, snakes, etc!
Consider Spending The Night At The Park
Most national parks and state parks have either lodging options or campsites available for people who want to spend the night within the park. Some even have cottage options which are great for bigger families. These spots book up quickly, so secure them with reservations at least 3 months prior to your trip.
The Grand Canyon is known for a comfortable lodge that guests love to stay at, where the less known national parks only offer primitive camping. If you want to camp, be sure to check if a permit is required to camp (it’s dependent upon state laws).
If possible, try planning to spend at least one night at the national park you visit. The kids will remember it forever because it’s such a unique experience. Imagine stargazing with the kids and exploring trails before other guests arrive for the day.
Plan To Explore More National Parks With Kids Than Other Guests
Did you know that most visitors never see more than two miles off of the main roads, in the parks? Research the park well and plan to go deeper in order to see the hidden beauty of every national park. Plus, this is also the best way to avoid crowds.
If you want assistance while visiting the park, look into a tour with a park ranger. The kids will be able to ask tons of questions and you’ll get their insider knowledge of the best places in the parks to see magnificent views, nature and curious animals.
What Time Of Year Is Best To Visit National Parks?
Each park is unique for the best time of year to visit. Sometimes it depends on the weather and the crowds. Yellowstone National Park and the North Rim section of the Grand Canyon stay closed during the wintertime because the weather is so harsh.
On the contrary, Arches National Park closes during the summer because it’s extremely hot. Be sure to research the best time to visit for the particular park that you’re interested in.
Also, there’s a high season for many of the parks, which means visiting during that time might not be ideal if your family prefers more solitary experiences when out in nature. In that case, shoulder season tends to be the best time to visit most national parks, but always check the weather conditions no matter when you decide to visit.
America The Beautiful Pass: Save Money Park Visits
When you’ve got kids, it really helps to save as much money as you can on family travel. If you’re on a mission to visit as many national parks as possible or have a few on your radar that you want to visit over the next year, I highly recommend getting yourself an America the Beautiful Pass.
The American the Beautiful Pass allows you to enter over two thousand federal recreation parks (including national and state parks) for a one-time fee.
If your family loves visiting the parks, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run. By removing the cost of entry fees to national parks it’ll be one part of your vacation that’s already paid for. Plus, you can visit local state parks for quick weekend getaways as a family.
No matter when you decide to visit the national parks with kids, you’re sure to make memories that will last a lifetime. They’ll leave with a hands-on educational experience that was enriched through family travel. It’s a gift that my kids treasure, as we work on filling our national parks passport, and I know your kids will feel the same way too!