National Park Adventures with Kids: 6 Ways to Make the Most of Them
U.S. National Parks feature stunning educational landscapes for kids to explore. Try these tips to make the most of your family’s national park adventures.
Easily some of the most amazing resources our beautiful country has to offer are its national parks. From beaches to mountains, U.S. national parks feature dozens of stunning and diverse landscapes to explore.
Unfortunately, far too many people are entirely unaware of the magic and beauty hiding in these natural wonderlands. So, they never even think to go check out our national parks. Even those people who do have some idea what these spaces have to offer sometimes don’t visit out as often as they should.
This failure to make the most of America’s national parks is a disservice to kids (and adults!) who could be learning a multitude of amazing lessons from visiting these places.
From geology to history, national parks present a wide assortment of lesson topics. This variety makes them ideal places for homeschoolers of all ages to learn, explore, and discover.
For this reason, I highly recommend planning at least a few trips to national parks this summer and into the coming school year. As a regular park visitor, I’d like to offer my tips for ensuring your adventures go over without a hitch.
Purchase an “America the Beautiful” Pass
First, you should know about the “America the Beautiful” annual pass. This fantastic reciprocal memberships pass is a must-have for anyone who plans to visit national parks regularly. Annual pass holders can enter all national parks free of charge. At just $80 a year, this is an absolute steal.
Want to save even more? If you have a fourth-grader or special needs family member or you’re a military family, you can get an America the Beautiful pass free of charge!
Explore Junior Ranger Programs
Once you get your pass, you need to know how to make the most of it. Every park has a different lineup of spectacular outdoor adventures. That said, one exciting option is available at all national parks, no matter where you travel: the Junior Ranger Program.
This remarkable program is geared toward kids and encourages them to get involved in the experience. Each park has its own Junior Ranger book, which includes activities for the kids to complete during their visit. When they finish, kids can take the book back to the ranger station and show it to a park ranger. The ranger will reward them with a Junior Ranger badge (following a ranger pledge, of course).
The added fun of participating in the Junior Ranger program keeps kids engaged and entertained throughout your national park visits.
Decide Which National Park Adventures You’ll Take
With so many diverse national parks to choose from, you may have trouble deciding which ones to add to your bucket list. Honestly, every single park we’ve visited has proven uniquely beautiful and exciting. That said, if we focus on those sure to engage the kids, some stand out as ideal.
Grand Canyon National Park
Offering exciting hiking opportunities, unforgettable lessons on the formation of canyons, and gorgeous sky gazing, Grand Canyon National Park is mesmerizing for people of all ages. Be sure to attend a ranger talk for an extra educational experience.
Everglades National Park
If your kids love alligators, they’ll adore Everglades National Park where they can get up close and personal with these creatures. Airboat tours provide families a unique opportunity to explore the swampy landscape.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
An excellent destination for hiking and biking with kids, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers plenty of captivating trails that are manageable for little legs. Be sure to watch out for wild animals. You might spot more than you’d think!
Badlands National Park
Kids love Badlands National Park because all guests are invited to dig for fossils! Visitors have made many extraordinary discoveries, and many of these amateur archaeologists were kids.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is like a gigantic sandbox, and kids adore it. It offers opportunities to dig, of course, but it also provides guests a chance to try their hand at sledding even without snow. The dunes are huge and perfect for sliding down using a disc.
Acadia National Park
Acadia is a beautiful seaside park that offers families an excellent chance to reconnect over picnics and leisurely walks. The rocky beaches are perfect for examining sea life while the woodlands provide ample opportunity for plan and wildlife exploration.
Do Some Reading Before You Go
Reading about the park you’re visiting before you head out is an ideal way to keep the kids engaged. They’ll have a blast pointing out things you’ve read about, and seeing these things in person will help them retain the info they’ve gathered through reading.
Take Kid-Friendly Cameras
Kids love to take photos. Hand them cameras made for kids and let them go to town. Not only will the camera encourage them to look carefully at the beauty that surrounds them, but it’ll also allow you to see the world through their eyes.
Last but not least, you will want to be sure to pack wisely. Understand first and foremost that national parks are often huge, so you should pack enough for an entire day full of sometimes messy adventures. Bottled water, a picnic spread, bug spray, sunscreen, extra clothes, and baby wipes are all must-have items.
There you have it, my top tips for making the most of national park adventures with the kids. I hope these are put to use time and time again as you and your family explore the incredible parks the USA has to offer.
Do you and your family enjoy exploring America’s national parks? Which ones have you visited?
I think it’d be nice to visit Badlands this summer, my kids needs to dig for fossils too, I think they’ll love it.
Love this, and love our national parks! My favorite is Yellowstone, which my family used to frequent often when we lived near to it. Just like you mentioned it was critical to pack a lot of snacks, etc, for visits bc there is minimal opportunity to purchase food & supplies on site. Here’s an old post I wrote about visiting Yellowstone, have you been there yet? https://untoadoption.org/a-frequent-picnickers-guide-to-jellystone/