5 years ago if you told me that one of my favorite travel activities would become visiting family-friendly National Parks- I would have called you crazy.
I don’t camp. I don’t hike. In fact, I’m not even all that outdoorsy unless it involves sports. In other words, National Parks weren’t my dream destination.
But that has changed, and here’s why…
’m competitive as all get out. (Hear me out, I know it looks like I’m getting off track!)
A couple of years ago our family purchased a Passport To Your National Parks book. Each time you visit a National Park, you stamp your book. The idea is to fill your passport book with stamps commemorating your travel. The stamps are dated and reflect the specific park you’ve visited.
Once we’d purchased the book. I couldn’t wait to put a stamp (or two) in it. We planned a weekend trip and incorporated a few hours driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. After getting our first stamp I tucked the book into my glove compartment and, honestly, sort of forgot about it.
Fast forward 6-months and our family was using the Waze app to get home from the beach. Of course, it directed us onto all these random back country roads. We ended up literally driving by the entrance to Congaree National Park. When I remembered that the National Park Passport Book was in our car, we decided to turn back and collect a second stamp.
For whatever reason, once we had two stamps (and genuinely enjoyed our experiences at the Parks), we became obsessed with collecting more.
And now it’s turned into a bit of a competition- how many National Parks can we visit when we travel?
To date, we have 54 stamps in our book. I asked my kids to go through the book and pick out their favorite 10 to get their take on it. I edited their list a bit and added 2 parks that we’ve yet to visit, but I’ve read are great for kids.
In no particular order, here are the most family-friendly National Parks:
- Arches National Park (Utah): While not all of the hikes are do-able for kids, the drive is gorgeous! Additionally, Sand Dunes Arch is an easy walk for families and a really fun place to spend some time.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee/North Carolina): There is a reason this is the most visited park! Our family loves driving the loop around Cades Cove and visiting some of the old buildings. We have also seen a lot of cool wildlife including a mama bear and her cubs!
- Badlands National Park (South Dakota): Hands down, this is the coolest place we’ve ever been! The landscape is absolutely gorgeous and we couldn’t stop watching all the prairie dogs play.
- 4. Vicksburg National Military Park (Mississippi): This was another park that we didn’t really plan on visiting until we drove by it and the kids begged to stop. The displays at the visitors center were extremely educational in teaching our family more about the Civil War. And, we all enjoyed seeing the USS Cairo- one of the first ironclad warships.
- 5. Acadia National Park (Maine): Kids will love the opportunity to see whales and other wildlife. Not to mention, families can enjoy the first sunrise in the US from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
- 6. Gateway Arch National Park (St. Louis): Formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, this is such an iconic American landmark to visit. I don’t think there’s a city in the world that my kids love more than St. Louis. Going up in the arch is certainly a memorable experience for all.
- 7. Denali National Park (Alaska): In this park you will find the highest peak in North America. There are also several great educational displays for kids. And the whole family will enjoy watching the dog sled demonstrations. (FYI- Children under 4 are required to be in a car seat if you take the park buses.)
- 8. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts): We fell in love with this gorgeous beach! It’s mostly untouched beauty and a fabulous place to visit with kids! For an added adventure- try visiting with no sand toys and ask your kids to get creative. Read more about that here: Just A Backpack and A Beach.
- 9. Haleakala National Park (Hawaii): This park treats guests to a day on top of a crater! Families will enjoy watching the sun rise and exploring the unique landscape. There is also a beautiful 400-foot waterfall that you don’t want to miss!
- 10. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): It would be impossible to make this list and not include the Grand Canyon. Don’t miss my post on visiting with kids to ensure you have a great experience.
Honorable Mentions (because I always have trouble narrowing down a list!)
- All points along the Freedom Trail- Boston National Historical Park (Bunker Hill Monument, Paul Revere House, USS Constitution, etc.)
- Statue of Liberty (NYC)
- Everglades National Park (Florida)
- Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)
- Mount Rushmore (South Dakota)
- White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)
- Joshua Tree National Park (California)
Okay, I could really keep going, but I have to draw the line somewhere. We are HUGE fans of the National Park System!
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