Families looking for an outdoor adventure will want to check out one of the best national parks for kids. From coast to coast, there are plenty of options to explore.
There are 400 national parks in the U.S. National Park System. Visitors logged nearly 3 million visits to these parks in 2021, which is possibly why many national parks are requiring reservations in 2022. Make sure to check if you need a reservation before traveling!
To help you choose the ideal option for your family, here’s a look at the 10 best national parks for kids, including activities you won’t want to miss when you visit.
No. 1: Arches National Park (Utah)
Arches National Park is a must-see for anyone who enjoys natural beauty.
The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, and the hues of the rocks are simply breathtaking. In addition to the arches, there are also hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. Your kids will love and be fascinated by Balanced Rock and The Windows. The variety of formations is truly amazing, and it’s well worth spending a day or two exploring all that the park has to offer.
Be careful when you plan your trip. Arches National Park isn’t the best place to visit during the summer. Temperatures can get incredibly hot, making it difficult to enjoy all the park has to offer. For those with children, there is one spot that both kids and adults will love — Mill Creek Trailhead. Just a short drive from Arches, this spot offers a chance to cool off with a swim and see an amazing waterfall.
Yes, there’s much to see and do inside and around Arches National Park, especially for families with kids. Just be sure to bring your camera — Arches National Park is also a photographer’s paradise!
No. 2: Acadia National Park (Maine)
Acadia National Park is the perfect place to bring your kids for a vacation they’ll never forget. With so many activities and attractions, you might have a hard time deciding where to begin.
Acadia offers a ranger-guided boat cruise that includes seal spotting and chances to touch creatures and wildlife plucked from the ocean below. Kids can also travel back in time to the Carroll Homestead where they’ll play pioneer games. If your kids are looking for a more active adventure, they can hike up Cadillac Mountain or take a bike ride through Acadia’s scenic forest Loop Road.
Acadia National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Maine, and it’s one of the most popular national parks in the United States (more than 2 million recreational visits with July, August, and September as the busiest months). It’s not hard to see why Acadia is such a tourist magnet.
The park boasts over 125 miles of hiking trails, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. And for those who are looking for a truly unique experience, the Bar Harbor Trail offers the perfect opportunity to get away from it all. The only way to reach Bar Harbor is by walking across a sandbar during low tide, so make sure to pay attention to the tide tables before you set out.
Of course, Acadia National Park is also home to ticks, which can be a major concern for travelers with young children. But as long as you take the proper precautions, there’s no need to let that stop you from enjoying everything
Acadia has something for everyone, so don’t wait to plan your trip!
No. 3: Everglades National Park (Florida)
If your kids are bored with the usual suspects (like the zoo, the aquarium, and the park), it’s time to take them on an Everglades adventure.
No trip to the Everglades is complete without taking an airboat ride across the swampy sawgrass and water to spot the reptiles that lurk below. The Everglades is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist. Be on the lookout for Florida panthers, manatees, dolphins, snakes, turtles, and white-tailed deer as well. Everglades National Park has four visitor centers and each offers unique activities including Croc Talks, guided nature hikes, Manatee Talks, a Car Caravan, and even an open-air tram.
In addition to its wildlife, Everglades National Park is also home to some of the most beautiful scenery in Florida. Geocaches are also hidden all over the park, allowing children to participate in an interactive and fun treasure hunt.
While Everglades National Park is ideal for children, there are wild and real dangers present, including venomous snakes, mosquitos, and many of the other animals mentioned before. Keeping your children close and being aware is crucial here!
No. 4: Olympic National Park (Washington)
Olympic National Park is one of the most unique places on earth. This International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site spans 922,651 acres and is made up of three distinctly different ecosystems — rugged glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and magnificent old-growth temperate rain forest. Olympic National Park is a must-see for anyone who loves the outdoors.
The best way to experience Olympic National Park is to start at Hurricane Ridge and hike the Sunrise Point Trail. Take in the dramatic glaciers and views of Mount Olympus while exploring the sub-alpine meadows. Expect snow on the trails even in summer and look for abundant wildlife, including deer, elk, voles, and squirrels, as well as 22 species listed as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Olympic National Park is also home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. From the old-growth temperate rainforest to the sparkling waters of Lake Crescent, there is something for everyone to enjoy — kids included.
Be sure to choose one of the three beautiful waterfall trails suitable for families and hit Lake Crescent to enjoy the sparkling sub-alpine blue waters. Finally, don’t miss out on exploring the Pacific Coastline. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 70 miles of the park. Climb the rocks, marvel at the sea life gathered in tide pools, and see what you can spot off the coast as well.
Olympic National Park’s beaches aren’t made for swimming due to the scattered rocks, but they are worth a visit. Your kids can still play at the tide tables before hiking along the coast.
No. 5: Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
Isle Royale National Park is a remote and rugged place, and getting there can be half the fun! You’ll have to book a ride on a ferry, private boat, or even a seaplane to reach the island.
Once you arrive, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views, hiking trails, and plenty of opportunities to explore. Check out the Rock Harbor Lighthouse and Museum to learn all about the various lighthouses across the park, their importance, the shipwrecks spread across the lake, and more about the copper mining and other activities that took place here. You can also enjoy a relaxing 3-hour cruise down the Portage Canal aboard the Ranger III. Cruises take place on scheduled Thursdays in the summer.
The least visited National Park in the lower 48, Isle Royale is perfect for families with children that are looking to get away from it all. However, visitors should be aware that emergency services are limited on the island and children should be closely supervised at all times. Life jackets are also a must for any water activities.
Plan your trip carefully. The park is closed to visitors from Nov. 1 to April 15 annually. But, if you’re traveling outside that window and want a truly remote and wild experience, Isle Royale is the place for you!
No. 6: Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Big Bend National Park is a can’t miss for kids, especially children who love dinosaurs! Included with park admission, the Fossil Discovery Exhibit allows visitors to experience Big Bend’s prehistoric plants and animals, and the world they lived in, through 130 million years of geologic time.
Make sure to check out Santa Elena Canyon. You can drive to see the view from the road and the overlooks rather than hiking. Next head down to the Rio Grande for a picnic and quick hike. Older kids will enjoy the Hot Springs near Rio Grande Village.
Big Bend National Park is a massive park that contains a lot of dangerous wildlife — including bears, mountain lions, and venomous snakes. The park is also incredibly dark at night, making it an ideal spot for stargazing. In 2012, the park was named an International Dark Sky Park. Big Bend National Park has the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states, and star gazing here is superb. That said, the darkness of the park can also be a bit disconcerting, so be sure to bring a flashlight (or two) with you when you visit.
For families looking to add a little international flavor to their river floats, the Rio Grande is the perfect destination. And while you won’t need a visa to float through Santa Elena Canyon, you will need a passport. That’s because the international border officially runs through the middle of the river, making these trips technically international.
The best times to visit are between November 15 and April 15, when the temperatures are more moderate and ranger-led programs are available.
No. 7: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii. And for good reason — it’s home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Wouldn’t your kids love to see a real volcano?
Visitors can safely observe the magma from the park’s observation deck, and there are even helicopter tours available for those who want to get a closer look. But Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn’t just for volcano enthusiasts. There are plenty of activities and attractions for non-hikers as well. The park has two main drives — Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road — that offer visitors a chance to see many of the park’s sites without having to hike. The volcanic gases billowing out of craters may make the trip difficult for pregnant women or anyone with respiratory issues.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also home to an incredible variety of wildlife, including seven threatened species and 47 endangered species. The nēnē (Hawaiian goose) and the honu‘ea (hawksbill turtle) are just two of the park’s many beautiful residents. In addition to providing a refuge for these threatened and endangered species, the park also offers visitors the opportunity to see them in their natural habitat. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-see for any nature lover.
Start planning your trip by looking at the events and programs held by the Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Many of these events and activities are perfect for families with kids.
No. 8: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee)
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a nature lover’s paradise, offering an array of activities to enjoy amid stunning scenery. Kids will love the abundance of waterfall hikes, including the 2.6-mile moderate hike to Grotto Falls.
A hike or bike ride through Cades Cove offers a chance to spot the elk herds that live there, and a visit in May or June may also bring firefly spotting in the evening! Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, North Carolina is where you can find important park information along with the Mountain Farm Museum featuring 19th-century buildings.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, attracting over 12 million visitors in 2020. The park is free to enter, but there are several paid attractions, such as rafting and rail adventures offered by Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Parents should be mindful of the potential dangers in the park, such as thunderstorms, dangerous animals, and treacherous terrain.
With proper precautions, Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors.
No. 9: Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)
Yellowstone National Park is one of America’s most beloved natural treasures. Featuring some of the country’s most iconic geologic attractions, Yellowstone is a must-see for any nature lover.
Thanks to the park’s multi-use trail system, everyone (including kids) can enjoy Yellowstone’s famous geothermal features, waterfalls, and wildlife. Whether you’re spotting bears and bison in Lamar Valley or marveling at the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone has something for visitors of all ages.
Yellowstone National Park is a beautiful place full of wildlife and natural wonders. However, it is important to remember that Yellowstone is also a place where grizzly bears and wolves roam free. These animals can pose a danger to children if they are not properly supervised. Additionally, the thermal springs in Yellowstone can cause burns if people get too close. For these reasons, it is important to be cautious and aware of your surroundings when visiting Yellowstone. By doing so, you can help to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.
Yellowstone may also be the most well-known of all U.S. national parks. So make sure to add this national park to your bucket list!
No. 10: Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. And it’s obvious why — the canyon itself is an awe-inspiring sight, and there are plenty of activities to keep visitors of all ages entertained.
For those who want to explore the canyon themselves, there are plenty of options. Hiking and biking along the South Rim are popular choices, and many visitors enjoy taking a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the South Rim. Of course, no trip to the Grand Canyon would be complete without stopping at Horseshoe Bend — one of the most photographed spots in the park. With its stunning overlook stretching 1,000 feet above the canyon floor, it’s easy to see why this is such a popular spot for snaps.
There is one spot in the Grand Canyon that is underrated by those who haven’t visited: Havasupai Falls. Havasupai Falls is located on the Havasupai Native American Reservation, and only a limited number of people are allowed to visit each year. Getting to the falls is difficult and can only be done by hiking, horseback riding, or helicopter.
The Grand Canyon is 6,000 feet deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long — and it’s just as stunning in person as you imagine. Take your kids along for the trip of a lifetime!
How to Get Ready to Take Kids to a National Park
Ready to take your kids to a national park? Here’s a look at how you can start preparing.
First, take advantage of the Free National Parks pass if you have a fourth-grader. These passes get the child and the family into almost all parks for free. If you do not have a fourth-grader but plan to visit more than one national park this year, purchase an America the Beautiful Pass to help save on the cost of admission.
If you have a 4th grader take advantage of the Free National Parks Pass! It gets the child and family in for free at most parks across the nation.
Also, all national parks have a free Junior Ranger program that kids can complete during their visits. Some offer Wilderness Ranger programs, too.
Finally, check out the Rock The Park series, which takes you through all of the parks in the National Park System. This series can help get your kids excited, no matter where you’re planning to visit!
What Park Should You Visit?
This list can’t even begin to encompass all of the beauty and wonders our nation has to offer. Get out and explore because ALL of our parks can offer something valuable and awe-inspiring for kids — young and old. Have you already visited one of these parks with kids? Or, are you planning a trip? If so, contact us to let us know, or share your experience in the comments section below.