Some of the best family memories are made at national parks when everyone is away from the screens and simply enjoying the great outdoors with the people they love.
But not all national parks are great for children and families.
Luckily, we’ve researched the best parks for you to take your kids to. These parks are not only safe with the proper precautions but also offer a ton of family-friendly activities. Your kiddos may even learn a thing or two!
1. Acadia National Park, ME
We love Acadia National Park for families because the hikes offer great views without the rigor of a more mountainous National Park.
Your kids, for example, could handle Cadillac Mountain, which features about 1,500 feet of elevation. It’s relatively gradual, though. If you have really little kids, you’ll want to make the 20-minute drive from Bar Harbor to a parking lot at the top of the mountain for a family photo. Take it up a notch by going at sunrise and sunset.
Another great activity is the park’s amazing sand beach, where you can build some incredible sandcastles. You’ll want to bring some backpacking chairs for the beach. The saltwater makes the sand compact nicely, which will keep your little ones busy while you relax on the beach.
Finally, book a ferry ride to visit Mount Desert Island, which is the second largest island on the Eastern Seaboard, just behind Long Island in New York.
2. Yellowstone National Park, CA
It’s probably the most iconic and most popular national park in the system, so, naturally, you can expect to find some great family-friendly activities inside Yellowstone.
At the top of your list, you need to take your kids to Old Faithful Geyser. They’ll get a kick out of this water feature, but it will also motivate them to go geyser hunting on one of your many hikes. We recommend the paper Geyser Basin loop trail. It’s four miles long, which is probably about the limit for younger kids. They’re bound to see some geysers, but also be pretty tired at the end of the day.
Make sure your kids wear a good pair of lightweight hiking pants that can dry quickly if you visit the geysers.
Kids love swimming, which is why you should go to The Boiling River. This is a natural hot tub that’s nice to relax in after a day of exploring the park. Make sure to keep your kids on the side and consider having them wear a life jacket. The current can become strong at times. Luckily, it’s not that deep, but could potentially be scary for younger kids.
3. Voyageurs National Park, MN
While Northern Minnesota likely isn’t on your list for a family vacation, Voyageurs National Park makes a compelling case as a top destination to make some memories.
The state, afterall, is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Voyageurs does a great job of teaching kids (and adults) the rich history of trapping through outdoor recreation.
We recommend taking part in the North Canoe Program. Park rangers will actually dress up as French trappers and explain what they went through to provide food and resources for their families. As part of the program, you paddle a canoe with 10 other people on the Ash River. Make sure to check schedules and weather forecasts.
If you’re not able to make the program, you can still rent canoes or kayaks on your own and paddle out to the many islands in the park.
4. Wind Cave National Park, SD
Kids love caves and this South Dakota National Park has plenty of them.
Wind Cave National Park is a hidden gem in the National Park system, especially for families. You can hike, camp, and see plenty of wildlife, but it’s the caves that will excite your kids the most.
We recommend one of the three tours; Fairgrounds Tour, Natural Entrance Tour or the Garden of Eden Tour. The first is the most difficult, lasting about 90 minutes and featuring 450 total steps, but if your kids are over the age of 8, they should be OK.
The Natural Entrance Tour is our favorite because you get to enter the cave through a man-made entrance, just like explorers did back in the day. Your kids will really feel that excitement of entering a cave.
Don’t try to visit two caves on the same day. These are popular tours and your kids might be tired. Tickets also sell out pretty quickly. And make sure to bring a jacket. It could be 75 degrees outside, but inside the cave, it’s in the low 50s.
5. Lake Clark National Park, AK
If you want to bring the family on a big adventure, head to Alaska and Lake Clark National Park, where you can canoe in between mountains, hike the Tanalian Trail system, and fish for sockeye salmon.
While younger children can certainly appreciate this National Parks trip, it’ll be more enjoyable for kids who are at least 10 years old.
One of the most memorable parts of their trip will be spotting brown bears. This park has plenty of them and park rangers can help direct you to where you need to go and best safety practices. These bears are safe to view as long as your family is using common sense and respect a bear’s personal space.
6. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
This underrated gem in Utah is perfect for your little ones to explore, and the parents will certainly enjoy it, too!
If you only have one day in the park, definitely go hike Capitol Gorge Trail. The beauty of this gorge will be an absolute treat for adults, but your kids are going to love the sandy bottom of the gorge. And since it’s narrow, your kids don’t have to worry about getting lost. Make sure to bring towels with you to dry off.
If you have extra time, check out the Grand Wash Trail. It’s only 16-feet at one point and has plenty of crevases and alcoves for your kids to safely climb on.
At the end of a day of exploring, head to the Gifford House where you can pick up a famous pie for the whole family. They have ice cream for sale, too.
7. Dry Tortugas National Park, FL
If you’re taking the family down to the Florida Keys, you need to make at least a day trip into Dry Tortugas National Park.
First, your kids are going to love the two-hour ferry boat ride, which is the only way to access the group of seven small islands. Seaplane is also an option, but is significantly more expensive.
For day trips, you have about five hours to explore. We recommend starting with a tour of Fort Jefferson. If your kids are a little older, do a guided tour to learn about the rich history of this fort. If they’re younger, a self-guided tour is probably a better option.
Your kids’ best memories will be made snorkeling in the coral reef system. There are some areas close to the moat wall that aren’t too deep where you can see plenty of colorful fish.
8. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA
Home to 8,000 giant sequoia trees, including the world’s largest tree, General Sherman Tree, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks in California is the perfect adventure with kids.
These trees are on display across the various trail systems. With younger kids, start with the Zumwalt Meadow Trail. It’s an easy 0.8-mile trail for all skill levels. You’ll take in a river, trees, birds and other wildlife. As a bonus, there are restrooms at the trailhead so everyone can be ready to go for the day.
The Roaring River Falls is another great option. It’s a paved half-mile trail and at the end, you can climb down to the splash around in the river’s shallow spots.
9. Yosemite National Park, CA
As one of the most-popular parks in the national park system, Yosemite is obviously a top place for kids, too. Picking activities can be difficult, though.
Here are three must-do Yosemite activities for your family :
- Relax and wade in the meandering merced river. This is especially nice on a hot day.
- Take in the wildlife at the Twilight on the Meadow. You’ll see plenty of deer with beautiful velvet antlers.
- Visit the thundering waterfalls and get up close to feel the spray from this impressive water feature.
10. Redwood National Park, CA
The majestic redwood trees might be enough to keep your kids occupied for hours.
For younger children, take in the Fern Canyon hike. The 0.7-mile loop is stunning and features plenty of history. The ferns covering the 30-foot cliffs can be traced back 325 million years ago. Your kids will love climbing over giant fallen trees.
Foothill Trail is another easy, albeit longer, trail that takes hikers through a fascinating old grove.
Andrew Dodson is an avid camper who enjoys the great outdoors with his wife and two-year-old son. He resides in Colorado, where you can often find him enjoying hikes with a toddler strapped to his back and mini goldendoodle Percy nearby.