9 Best National Parks for Kids
Kid-friendly trails, ranger programs, and wildlife encounters are among the many reasons why national parks make for ideal family getaways. We sorted through the nation's 59 parks to bring you the 9 best national parks for kids.
Yellowstone National Park
Travelers from around the country (and the world) come to Yellowstone to take in the place that birthed America’s national park legacy. And while the park’s history may be over the little one’s heads, the awe-inspiring landscape—think gushing waterfalls, hissing steam vents, and exploding mud pots—is sure to keep them captivated. Most families head for Old Faithful Geyser, which reliably erupts every hour and half. Another great, kid-friendly activity is drive-by spotting of some of the park’s 400-plus animal species, including the world’s largest herd of bison. Base yourself at the historic log-and-stone Old Faithful Inn, where the lack of TVs and internet means you're in for some good old-fashioned family fun.
Zion National Park
Teenagers will go crazy for the hair-raising hikes in Zion National Park—especially Angel’s Landing, a trail that rises 1,500 feet above the Virgin River, and features relentless switchbacks and a near-vertical summit. For younger travelers, The Narrows, a slot canyon hike through the Virgin River, proves to be just as thrilling (be sure to pack water shoes, though, as the rocks can get quite slippery). There’s a great campsite right near the park's entrance if you're looking to rough it; if not, the Desert Pearl Inn is a gorgeous, family-friendly hotel with an outdoor pool, spacious accommodations with balconies, and 360-degree views of the surreal red and pink landscape.
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Redwood National Park
Teach your youngins about the importance of conservation and sustainability at Northern California’s Redwood National Park. Redwoods dotted California’s northern coast as long as 20 million years ago, but by the 1960s, the logging industry decimated nearly 90 percent of the population. In a valiant effort to preserve the world’s tallest trees (at more than 300 feet), the Redwood National Park was created in 1968. The best way to comprehend the sheer scale of these giants is by foot. Some great, moderate hikes include the 4.2-mile James Irvine Trail, which brings visitors to Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon (as seen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park), as well as Miners Ridge Trail, which follows the course miners took during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800s.
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Yosemite National Park
If your tots have boundless energy and a hankering for nonstop activity, take them to Yosemite. The park offers every outdoor activity imaginable, from hiking to rock-climbing, and rafting to zip lining. Traveling with an aspiring Ansel Adams? Take them to the Glacier Point lookout, which rises more than 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor and offers picture-perfect views of Half Dome, Clouds Resort, Yosemite Falls, and other glacier-sculpted landmarks. If you’re unable to fit it all in one day, overnight at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite—a refined base camp with arts and crafts-style interiors, gas-burning fireplaces, and two outdoor heated pools.
Everglades National Park
For kids who love Planet Earth and all things animal-related, you can’t do better than Everglades National Park, home to 350 species of birds, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles—plus, 36 threatened or protected species, including manatees, American crocodiles, and Florida panthers. Crowds congest the trails and promenades in high season (January through April), for the chance to see roosting herons, wading flamingoes, and anhinga hatchlings in their nests. The better way to traverse these Floridian wetlands is by canoe or kayak, which can freely wind through mangroves at freshwater marsh at a slow, child-friendly pace. Your digs at the Balinese-style JW Marriott Marco Island, which is fresh off a $230 million makeover, has a kids-club, tons of water activities, and a full-service spa where mom and dad can steal away from a pampering treatment.
Grand Canyon National Park
Dealing with hard-to-impress teens? Take them to the Grand Canyon and prepare to see their jaws hit the floor. The 18-mile-wide, 277-mile-long canyon mesmerizes even the surliest of travelers (speaking from experience here), while younger children will delight in the park's fossil impressions of sponges, brachiopods, and other marine creatures from more than 270 years ago. Bunk down at Canyon’s newest sleep, Under Canvas—a clutch of luxury tents at the base of Bill Williams Mountain, right on the historic Route 66.
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Acadia National Park
The trip to Acadia National Park is worth it for the views from Cadillac Mountain alone. At more than 1,500 feet, it’s the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard—something your kids will readily brag about to their friends back home. Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, bobcats, moose, peregrine falcons, and other wildlife as you explore the 120 miles of trails within the park. Or, enroll the fam in tide pool school, where a park ranger will point out crabs, starfish, and many other varieties of shellfish. At the end of the day, wind down at the West Street Hotel’s rooftop pool, which overlooks the outer islands and Acadia.
Arches National Park
More than 1.4 million visitors head to Utah's Arches every year to lay eyes on one of the country’s most otherworldly—and visually arresting—natural phenomena: red sandstone formations shaped by water, wind, and time. A few of its most impressive include natural archways (hence the park’s name) like Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch along with enormous freestanding walls, known as “fins,” of Entrada sandstone. There are ranger-led programs offered spring through fall, including guided walks and “Fiery Furnace” hikes through a labyrinth of towering sandstone walls. Your homebase is the Red Cliffs Lodge, a Wild West-style retreat with a horse corral, a West film museum, and a wide roster of outdoor activities (rafting, Jeep rides, mountain bike trips).
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There’s something for everyone at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from miles upon miles of trails, to a diverse range of scenery (waterfalls, wildflowers, spruce-fir forests), and heart-racing animal sightings, including black bears, coyotes, and deer. Cover major ground by riding bikes through Cades Cove, or by going on a guided horseback or horse-drawn carriage ride (Cades Coves Riding Stables offers both). After a long day on your feet, kick back at Courtyard by Marriott Gatlinburg, an unfussy hotel half a mile away from the park.
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