The National Parks: 10 Family Vacation Ideas

Our family of four visited our first national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, in the winter of 2014. Since then, we have come to enjoy the national parks as a family. When on a national park vacation, our kids enjoy hiking some trails, learning about the history, geology, geography of the area, and becoming junior rangers. If your family has never visited any of the national parks, here are my recommendations for the best national park vacations.

the national parks family Glacier

American National Parks Map

While the majority of the national parks in our country are out West, there are still plenty sprinkled throughout the U.S. When planning national park vacations with kids, it is important you map out your route well. Once you have visited a few, you may want to get a personalized travel map or an American National Parks map to remember your trip.

American National parks map

National Park Entrance Fees

Most of the time, when you enter a national park, you will pay an entrance fee. For most, a private car costs $30-35 to enter, yet it is good for seven days. If you’re planning a National Parks vacation with kids, I highly recommend getting an annual pass. Better yet, if you are traveling with a 4th grader, your entire vehicle gets free admission to the national parks for a year. Be sure to check out the site because you will need to apply in advance and print the voucher. Here are some road trip itineraries to help you make the most out of your national parks pass.

the national parks book

The National Parks: What to Do and Where to Stay

Here is a list of what I feel are the best national park vacations for families. You will find some hiking recommendations and basic tips when visiting the national parks. I also asked a few family travel bloggers for suggestions on where to stay close to the national parks.

10.  Arches National Park

Arches National Park is located in Utah, just north of the charming city of Moab. Arches is known for its’ 2,000 natural red rock arches, towering pinnacles, and giant balanced rocks. The park is a great playground for all ages, as there is something to impress everyone.

Arches National Park has many hiking trails, many of which are considered easy to moderate. This is what makes Arches a great National Park Vacation for kids. Much of this national park can be seen from the car, or just a quick hike from the parking lot or turn out. Here are some of the best hikes in Arches National Park to explore with your kids.

Balanced Rock is a very popular stop along the scenic drive in Arches. This easy trail is just 0.3 miles round trip and is perfect for families with toddlers. In the Windows area you can see three majestic arches and since the entire area is relatively flat, it is very easy to do with younger kids. Devils Garden is another popular hiking area with most visitors hiking to Landscape Arch or Double O Arch. The main attraction here though is Delicate Arch. This is the iconic arch that is found on the Utah license plate. The hike to Delicate Arch is 3 miles long, and is a fun walk into a canyon and over rock cliff edges. You can even see a section of old petroglyph carvings.

Arches National Park can get very crowded, especially in its’ busiest time of March – October. Temperatures in the summer months can reach 100°F and shade is hard to come by. It’s important to try and go as early as possible and bring plenty of water to battle the heat.

The National Parks Arches

Where to Stay Near Arches National Park

Expedition Lodge

Recommended by: Christina from Travel Maven Mama

When we visited Arches National Park, we stayed at the Expedition Lodge on Main Street in Moab, Utah. Just five miles from the entrance to Arches, the Expedition Lodge is an older motel that was completely updated and added to in order to create a surprisingly memorable and definitely family friendly experience. They have a huge jeep raised in the air overlooking the pool, which has a twisty slide and hot tub attached. Inside, we enjoyed a room that had a rustic full-sized mattress bunk bed to fit all four kids and a queen bed for us. The newly renovated decor was retro (check out that green toilet and rotary phone!), fun, and comfortable. The complimentary breakfast area had a huge variety of options and even included an arcade for the kids to play with while the adults finished their food. Located on Main Street, you’re at the heart of the action in this chic little town. Read more about fun Arches and Moab activities. 

Expedition Lodge the national parks

Aarchway Inn

Recommended by: Jurga from Full Suitcase

When researching the best places to stay near Arches National Park we quickly realized that it’s best to stay as close to the park as possible. It gets so hot in Arches in summer that you really can’t do much hiking or sightseeing during the day. So it’s nice to be able to get back to your hotel for some pool time during the hottest hours and then go back to the park again without wasting too much time.

As a family of 5 who spends more time exploring than at the hotel, we were looking for the best price/quality hotel with big family rooms near Arches NP. We stayed at Aarchway Inn and it turned out to be a great choice. The hotel has spacious family rooms for up to 6 people, a nice breakfast, a big swimming pool, and it’s just a few minutes drive from the park entrance. It is one of the best price-quality accommodations in Moab.

Aarchway Inn the national parks

Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground

Recommended by: Cassie from White Sand and Cool Breezes 

When visiting Arches National Park, staying at Canyonlands RV Resort and Campground is a perfect spot for families. Perfect because it’s so close to the park, only about a 10 minute drive. Not only that but it’s not far from downtown so when you need to grab that last minute meal or dessert you won’t have to go far. The resort has spots for everyone: RV’s, cabins, and campsites.

Canyonlands RV resort the national parks

Devil’s Campground

Recommended by: Astrid from The Wandering Daughter

For families camping within Arches National Park, Devil’s Campground is the only option. This 50 site campground sits at the end of the main road of the National Park, 18 miles from the park entrance. All sites are drive-in sites, with no RV hook-ups. But there is potable water and bathrooms at the campground. Each campsite is surrounded by the giant red rock outcropping that is iconic to Arches National Park. A couple of trails are accessible from the campground, including the Devil’s Garden Trail and the trail leading to Broken Arch. Read more about visiting Arches National Park with kids.

the national parks Arches campground

ACT Campground and Environmental Learning Center

Recommended by: Angela from Our Life by the Horns

Our favorite place to stay in Moab, Utah is ACT Campground and Environmental Learning Center. ACT is less than thirty minutes away from Arches NP, Cayonlands NP, Dead Horse State Park, the LaSalle Mountains, and the Green River. They offer ample campsites for tents and RVs, a yurt for large groups and families, and cabins. ACT promotes community by having an indoor and outdoor community kitchen and an air-conditioned rec room with lots of board games for the kids. Families from all over the world come together at ACT and bond over the love of nature, conservation, and uniqueness of Southern Utah.

arches book

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. Located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokies are filled with lush forests, rivers, and beautiful mountain scenery. Since it is located in the Appalachian Mountain range, there are plenty of incredible scenic overlooks, hikes, and waterfalls. As with most national parks, summer is peak season, as is October (during the Fall).

Visiting the Smokies is one of the best national park vacations you can take if you enjoy forested scenery. Clingmans Dome will offer some incredible views on a clear day, and kids will love climbing to the top. There are plenty of other kid friendly hikes in the area, like Porters Creek which will take you along an easy trail near a creek to a waterfall. Laurel Falls is another great waterfall hike that will likely become a family favorite as there are small streams to cross, rock formations to climb, trees surrounding you and a gorgeous waterfall at the end. There are some steep ledges throughout the hike; however, the trail is wide enough that parents can keep smaller children away from the edge. Cades Cove is another popular place to visit in the park. The Cades Cove Loop Road is a great idea for those wanting a scenic drive around the valley.  The short Cades Cove Nature Trail has a large collection of preserved, historic buildings still standing from the 1800s. There is a granary mill, log houses, churches and old barns all left for tourists to see.

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Smoky Mountain Lodging Options

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are two cities very close to the national park and have plenty to do for everyone. Both cities make for a fantastic home base for exploring the Smoky Mountains. Check out my review of Pigeon Forge with Kids.

smokies 2 the national parks

Pioneer Cabins and Guest Farm

Recommended by: Trisha and Charlene from Perhaps This Is

We recommend Pioneer Cabins and Guest Farm, in Townsend, TN as a great family place to stay in the Smoky Mountains. It is nestled in the foothills and located about 20 minutes from Pigeon Forge. You are just a short drive to the Smoky Mountains National Park entrance. On this organic farm, you get your own private cabin, hot tub, grill, and plenty of breathtaking views. During your stay, you get to enjoy eggs and produce grown right on the farm. There is plenty of room for parents to relax, and kids to stretch and enjoy the simple things in life. They even have goats, a donkey, horses, and chickens! What’s not to love?

Smokemont Campground

Recommended by: Christine from This Bit of Life

When we traveled to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park this past year, we stayed at Smokemont in the North Carolina part of the park. It had a gorgeous visitor center to get our Junior Ranger books, and also had a ton of bison that seem to frequent the field. The campground itself is on a stream that ran right behind our site. Our kids had so much fun playing near the water. In our opinion, this is the prettiest campground in the Smokeys!

smoky mountains book the national parks

Smoky Mountain National Park Entrance Fee

Another great thing about Smoky Mountain National Park is that it is one of the national parks that do not have an entrance fee. That’s right, it is free to visit! Besides its’ natural beauty, this is one of the reasons why this national park is so popular and why it ranks as one of the best national park vacations.

Laurel Falls the national parks

8. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is a geological spectacle and one of the best national park vacations in the U.S.! Carved by the Colorado River, this 6,000 foot hole in the ground is impressive. Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of those sites that is usually on people’s bucket lists. The natural beauty here is truly remarkable.

Families can choose to explore the North Rim or South Rim. While both rims offer stunning views, the South Rim is the more popular of the two due to its’ accessibility off the main road. Kids will enjoy the visitor’s center, where they can learn about the geology of the park and walk the glass Skywalk overlook on the edge of the North Rim. Rafting the Colorado River is also a very popular activity for families when visiting the Grand Canyon.

The difference when visiting the Grand Canyon is that most people will not hike down to the bottom. A day hike is very difficult, as it can take several hours to venture down into the canyon and then even longer for the strenuous hike back up. Backpacking is more common in this area. Families can hike a section of the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail to get some views and pictures of the Grand Canyon. Other options to reach the bottom are taking a mule ride down or a helicopter tour that lands at the base.

Grand Canyon the national parks

Where to Stay Near the Grand Canyon

The Grand Hotel

Recommended by: Domonique from The Simple Proof

It’s tough to score reservations on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon! We stayed just outside the park at The Grand Hotel. Our room was spacious and comfortable with a filling breakfast to start our days off right for exploring in the Grand Canyon NP.  The rates were affordable and fit our family of 5 which can be tricky to accommodate!  

Recommended by: Catherine from We Go With Kids  

Our family spent one night at the Grand Hotel, which is located, which was located in Tusayan about one mile from the Grand Canyon’s South Entrance.  The Grand Hotel had felt like a lodge and features comfortable rooms and a heated swimming pool and was a great place to stay when for a family trip to the Grand Canyon with kids.

The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon the national parks

Maswik Lodge

Recommended by: Sinead from Map Made Memories

If you are visiting the south rim of The Grand Canyon, Maswik Lodge is a great option for family accommodation. The 250 room complex is prettily located in a Ponderosa pine forest just 1/4 mile from the canyon edge. You can easily walk to the rim, drive or catch a free shuttle from the hotel. North Side ensuite rooms are the most spacious and offer two queens beds with plenty of room for a rollaway if needed. The budget friendly rooms are accessed by outdoor walkways and stairwells. There is also a reasonably priced food court on site which is open all day. The close proximity of this cozy accommodation enabled us to easily view sunset and sunrise at the Grand Canyon making it an ideal choice for traveling families. 

Grand Canyon Day Trip or Tour Options

If your family is visiting Las Vegas, Phoenix or Flagstaff, a Grand Canyon day trip is quite possible. There are plenty of tours and excursions offered, but it is very doable to make the trip on your own. See some options on Grand Canyon day trip ideas below:

7. Grand Teton National Park

The mountains of Grand Teton National Park are the star attraction here. Although Grand Teton is a fairly small national park, its’ beauty is quite large. Located in the western corner of Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a great place for families to visit. Not only does it provide several campgrounds, scenic views, and hiking trails, but it also has miles of paved biking trails as well. It is also the neighbor to Yellowstone National Park. Combining these two make for a great national park road trip.

Kids and adults will love the town of Jackson located just 10 minutes away from the southern entrance of the park. It is an upscale western town with a picturesque downtown, plenty of local shops, and delicious restaurants. White water rafting on the Snake River is a great family activity if you have kids over 8 years old. Moose sightings are pretty common in the Grand Teton Range, and driving through the park allows for plenty of wildlife viewing. When visiting the Grand Tetons with kids, be sure to plan a visit to one of the popular lakes, Jackson Lake, String Lake, or Jenny Lake. All 3 lakes have gentle walking trails that lead you through the forest and around the lake shores to see the Teton mountain range. Many families frequent these lakes for swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking. If your family enjoys fishing, Grand Teton National Park has many rivers and streams in the vicinity. The beauty at Grand Teton National Park makes it one of the best national park vacations.

Tetons The National Parks

Where to Stay Near Grand Teton National Park

Jackson Lake Lodge

Recommended by: Jane from Vagabond3

When considering where to stay in or near Grand Teton National Park, think about the weather, if you want to bring your own linens and food, or have more of a resort experience. Most of the cabins and cottages inside the park are only open May through early October, before the park gets snowed in. One seasonal non-camping option in the heart of Grand Teton is Jackson Lake Lodge, with 348 guest rooms and access to the lake for canoeing. Across the river to the visitors center is the smaller, family-owned log cabins, Dorans, that are open year round. Alternatively, you can stay at the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, where not only do you have five-star accommodations, but you also have amazing choices for dining that are walk-able into the town center.

Jackson Lake lodge The National Parks

Recommended by: James Ian at Travel Collecting

Two great options for families to stay inside Grand Teton National Park are:

Dornan’s Spur Ranch Cabins

There are one- and two-bedroom cabins located by the Snake River in Moose, at the southern end of the park.  The cabins have fully equipped kitchens, which are great for families, and there is a general store – and restaurants if you don’t want to cook – in the Moose area.  The cabins have a covered porch and a BBQ grill.  There are picnic tables and chairs down by the river, making this a perfect place to relax and unwind with the whole family.

Signal Mountain Lodge

Signal Mountain is located at the southern end of Jackson Lake, about half way along the park.  There are one- and two-room rustic log cabins, as well as motel-style rooms.  The cabins have an outdoor patio and all accommodations are close to Jackson Lake, which is a favorite spot to enjoy swimming, boating, and hiking.  There are restaurants and a general store at Signal Mountain, so this is also very convenient for families. 

the national parks book teton

6. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful and iconic parks in the U.S. Located in northern California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite is known for its’ giant sequoia trees and the famed granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

If there is one major area to explore, it is Yosemite Valley.  Although it is pretty touristy, most of the park’s top attractions are here. The world’s largest granite monolith, El Capitan, along with the Tunnel View Outlook and a few of Yosemite’s most famous waterfalls: Vernal Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Yosemite Falls are all found in this area.  Many of the trails in Yosemite Valley are gentle flat trails that lead directly to top attractions. On Southside Drive, you’ll find a couple short trails leading to Bridalveil Fall and the Sentinel Bridge, which is known for its’ views of Half Dome. Other popular hikes include Tuolumne Meadows and Mariposa Grove, where vistitors can walk through the massive sequoia forest.

If you’re visiting with younger kids or need some downtime, swim or wade around in the gentle Merced River. Another option is to visit the Happy Isles Nature Center to learn how to become a junior ranger or explore their unique poop exhibit. With so much to explore, it’s not a surprise Yosemite is considered by many to be one of the best national park vacations.

El Capitan the national parks

Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park

Tenaya Lodge

Recommended by: Vanessa from Wanderlust Crew

Yosemite National Park located in the gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountains in central California is one of the most visited national parks in the country. However, it is not known for its ample lodging options. Luckily, there is one beautiful hotel near Yosemite that should be the top choice: Tenaya Lodge.

The beautiful Tenaya Lodge is located just outside the park and offers many lodging options for all types of visitors with standard rooms, suites, and family cabins. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, several great restaurants, a beautiful spa, and more. In the summer Tenaya’s calendar is full of all sorts of outdoor recreational activities for the whole family, like guided hiking tours and campfire circles. In the winter you can take advantage of the covered ice-skating rink and sledding, as well as snowshoe hikes and horse-drawn carriage rides.

Tenaya Lodge the national parks

Recommended by: Karen from Family Travels on a Budget

When visiting Yosemite National Park, our favorite place to stay is Tenaya Lodge. Located just outside the park entrance, the rooms actually sleep five people, a rarity for hotels. Beyond that, onsite amenities make it a great place for families to connect. Amazing resort amenities include a spa, multiple pools (indoor and out), mountain biking, hiking and snow sports, kids’ camps and even deluxe accommodations for your dog. Our favorite activity at Tenaya is the Summerdale BBQ, an old fashioned barbecue dinner served amongst the pine trees with live entertainment, kids’ activities, and a campfire. Upscale Tenaya Lodge is a great complement to the natural beauty of Yosemite.

yosemite book

Yosemite View Lodge

Recommended by: Kristie from World is Wide

If you are traveling to Yosemite National Park in the summer, your best bet is to stay within the park. However, if, like us, you aren’t able to plan that far ahead for your trip, I highly recommend the Yosemite View Lodge near El Portal. The lodge is only a few miles from the Arch Rock entrance of the park on Highway 140. It has a restaurant and laundry facilities, as well as a souvenir and convenience store. But most importantly, be sure to get a river view room, as the balcony views of the Merced River are absolutely spectacular!

the national parks Yosemite

5. Badlands National Park

The Badlands are located in South Dakota, about an hour away from Rapid City and Mount Rushmore.  The landscape here is quite unique. From dry layered rock formations to steep chasms and towering spires, Badlands National Park is a diamond in the rough. As desolate as it looks, it is teeming with bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.

Families will enjoy driving the Badlands Loop Road, as it offers many easy trailheads as well as many viewpoints right on the side of the road. If you enjoy hiking, try the Windows and Door Trail. The Windows Trail offers kids many climbing opportunities around rock formations while admiring the canyons in the distance. Another nice hike is the Door Trail, which is a short boardwalk ending with a beautiful view of a chasm. For those a little more adventurous, try the Notch Trail. Hikers must climb a steep log ladder to reach the top, but the views are spectacular once you make it.

Head to the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to see the geology, paleontology, and biology of the area. In 2010, a young girl found a sabre-tooth tiger fossil here, and dig sites are still active today. Families will also learn about the history and culture of the Lakota people.  Because it is away from the city lights, the Badlands are also a great place to visit at night. It has a night sky program where, on a clear night, visitors can see the clarity of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It is for this reason that it is one of the best national park vacations to take.

Badlands the national parks

Where to Stay Near Badlands National Park

Cedar Pass Campground

Recommended by: Kristin from Explore Capture Share

Located within The Badlands National Park, The Cedar Pass Campground is an amazing place to spend your nights. The campground layout maximizes privacy between neighboring sites and facilitates breathtaking views of the landscape. Open space allows the kids to run off some energy. At night you can sit outside and often hear the bison roaming closely in the darkness. Additionally, the location right inside the park makes for quick and easy access to all the sights and trails the park has to offer. Some sites do have an electrical hookup. There is also cold running water, flush toilets and a dumping station within the premises.

dakotas book

Circle View Guest Ranch

Recommended by: Tamara from We3Travel

Circle View Guest Ranch is a working ranch and guest house located six miles outside of Badlands National Park near the town of Interior, South Dakota. This family-run ranch offers a range of accommodations for families, including en-suite rooms in the main house and stand-alone cabins. All guests can enjoy a home-cooked, family-style ranch breakfast in the morning. Following breakfast, children are invited to feed the scraps to the chickens and assist in collecting eggs from the hen house. Such a treat for families that haven’t had that experience before! The location outside of the southeast corner of Badlands National Park makes it easy to return to the park for dinner at the Cedar Pass Lodge or evening Ranger Programs and star gazing.

south dakota book

4. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is a stunning place and one of the national parks that are among the most beautiful in the country. It is located in Northeastern Montana and continues up into Canada. This park is known for its mountains, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and over 700 miles of hiking trails. It is a hiker’s paradise!

A great family hike is Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake. This hike begins on a boardwalk among the tall cedar trees and then a path connects it to a trail leading to Avalanche Lake. This hike meanders through a rushing river, takes you through the forest, and then culminates in a clearing revealing a gorgeous green/blue alpine lake. Kids will enjoy climbing over logs, crossing small streams and then wading in Avalanche Lake. Hidden Lake Trail is an extremely popular hike where you can often see mountain goats and play with snow in the middle of summer. Another popular place to take kids is Lake McDonald. The colored stones and crystal clear water make it a great place for families to swim or paddleboard/kayak. There are 5 different areas to enjoy Glacier National Park with kids. If possible, try to experience each section, as there is so much to explore.

The highlight of Glacier National Park is the famous Going to the Sun Road that is only open about 3 months of the year. A drive through this scenic road allows you to see waterfalls, glaciers and if you’re lucky, some wildlife. Adventure loving kids will love the perilous drive. If anyone in your group is scared of heights, this may not be the drive for you. Although the road does have railings, it is quite high. There are a number of scenic overlooks along the drive to stop and take pictures as well. Be sure to drive the entire road until the end at St. Mary’s Visitor’s Center, with a stop at Logan’s Pass. Even though this park is rather remote, throngs of people visit this park. Come early to snag a parking space on the trails.

Glacier National Park the national parks

Where to Stay Near Glacier National Park

Under Canvas Glacier

Recommended by: Domonique from The Simple Proof

Just outside of the West Glacier Entrance is Under Canvas Glacier. Our family had a fantastic time here. The tents were comfortable, bathrooms clean, and the proximity to the West Glacier entrance couldn’t be beat. Coffee was ready for us early risers and the pre-ordered breakfast wraps were delicious. After a fun filled day exploring Glacier NP, it was a great place to come back to at the end of the day. Kids loved the freedom to run around and the complimentary s’mores by the campfire hit the spot each evening.

Under Glacier

Izaak Walton Inn

Recommended by Kimberly from Stuffed Suitcase and Vacation Mavens Podcast

Imagine getting to sleep in an old train car — what kid wouldn’t love that?! The Izaak Walton Inn gives you the chance to live like a kid again with a private room inside an old train car. It’s a great home base for exploring many of the popular things to do in Glacier National Park since it’s located in between the West Glacier and East Glacier Park areas. It’s also situated along an operational set of train tracks, so you might get lucky while enjoying your morning coffee or meals and spot a train rolling by.

Isaak Walton Inn the national parks

Two Medicine Campground

Recommended by: Martha from Quirky Globetrotter

One of the prime reasons visitors flock to national parks is for the idyllic scenery and serene atmosphere. Two Medicine Campground certainly offers that and a front-row seat to view Glacier National Park’s beautiful vistas. The campground is quiet and perfect for families who are looking for relaxation and rejuvenation. The campground is located far enough away from the Going to the Sun Road that the campground feels secluded and homey. In the campground, there is also a small lake where families can swim or view wildlife such as beavers, birds, frogs, and fish.

glacier book the national parks

3. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is located in the northeastern corner of Maine and makes for a spectacular national park vacation. What is unique about Acadia National Park is the forest landscape combined with the towering granite cliffs right next to the Atlantic Ocean. It is also home to the tallest peak on the East Coast, Cadillac Mountain. Visitors flock here to catch the sunrise, as it is one of the first places in North America to see the sun come up. Acadia’s miles of coastline and forests make for a great family adventure and national park road trip as it contains some of the best hikes on the East Coast.

Kids can enjoy gentle hikes around lakes, marine life viewing at tidepools, and rock scrambling around the pink granite formations. There are several family-friendly hikes suitable for toddlers, elementary aged children, and even the more adventurous teenagers. Among the most popular are the Ocean Path Trail, Gorham Mountain, Bubble Rock, Cadillac North Ridge, Jordan Pond, Bar Island Trail, and Beehive Trail. Arriving early to the popular trails is always important as parking lots tend to fill up by mid-morning. Acadia offers a shuttle service to many areas of the park. You can catch them by parking at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center. Due to its remote location on the northeast coast, Acadia has many days that are foggy. Families may enjoy exploring through the fog, which adds a different element to the hike.

Driving through Acadia can be equally beautiful. If hiking is not your thing take a scenic carriage ride through the miles of old roads in Acadia. John D. Rockefeller, the billionaire oil tycoon, preserved many of these old carriage roads, and it still remains popular with the tourists. Summer is prime time in Acadia, as the temperatures are the mildest. If you are planning on visiting between June-August, be prepared for crowds and arrive early to the trails.

Acadia the national parks

Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park

The seaside town of Bar Harbor is a perfect place to call home base. Families will enjoy delicious restaurants and local vendors offering bike rentals and boat tours of the area.

maine coast book

Bar Harbor Grand Hotel

Recommended by: Chelsea from Pack More Into Life

If you are looking for the perfect place to stay near Acadia National Park in Maine with families, then look no further than the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel. It is close to the park (about a 5-minute drive to the entrance), walking distance to all the fabulous restaurants in Bar Harbor and features large rooms, continental breakfast, free parking and a pool with a hot tub! Priced around $100 per night, it’s a budget-friendly option for families while remaining close to all the amenities and attractions. To read more, check out her Top Ten Things to Do in Acadia National Park.

Grand Hotel Bar Harbor the national parks

Edenbrook Motel

Recommended by: Kaylie from Happiness Travels Here

Edenbrook Motel is a simple family friendly Motel in Bar Harbor, Maine. Only a mile from the entrance to Acadia National Park it is the perfect accommodation for families on a budget. Spend your mornings hiking in Acadia National park, your afternoon’s whale watching and your evenings eating lobster and BBQ followed by wild blueberry ice cream. The spacious comfortable rooms at Edenbrook Motel are clean and quiet, each with a porch and colorful patio furniture perfect for sitting and relaxing while the sun drops and kids settle into bed.

Edenbrook Motel
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2. Zion National Park

Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park is rapidly becoming America’s favorite park. Many people who visit Zion, are on a national parks trip to see the remaining Utah Mighty Five. It is widely known for its beautiful red sandstone cliffs, the Virgin River, deep and twisting canyons, and its vast range of unique hiking trails.

One of the most unique hiking trails can be found here is called the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike entirely done by wading and sometimes swimming in the Virgin River, through the narrow canyon walls. Other popular hikes include the Emerald Pools, Canyon Overlook Trail, Riverside Walk, and the treacherous Angel’s Landing. Be sure to heed the park’s warnings, as flash floods are common in the area, which may make certain trails impassable.

This area is also a fantastic place for canyoneers and rock climbers. First timers can hire a guide to take them through the slot canyons into the water below. While experts flock here to challenge themselves into remote crevices such as the Subway. If your family has younger kids, then a trip to the Nature Center or a swim along the Virgin River may be a better idea. Other popular activities in Zion include biking on the Pa’rus Trail or driving the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive. It is clear why visiting Zion is one of the best national park vacations.

Zion

Where to Stay Near Zion National Park

Flanigan’s Inn

Recommended by: Inna from the Executive Thrillseeker

Flanigan’s Inn in Springdale, Utah is located just outside of Zion National Park and has everything you would expect from a hotel after the whole day spent outdoors. The rooms are affordable when it comes to the quality and hotel’s location. You won’t need to travel far for food as there is a “Spotted Dog Cafe” just across the street. The cafe will surely do the job with some of the best American food you can find in town. There is also enough parking place for your family’s RV or camper truck.

Flanigan's Inn Zion

Hurricane Wingate at Zion

Recommended by: Catherine from Traveling with the Littles

The three main areas/towns to stay near Zion National Park are the Zion Lodge (in the park), Springdale, Utah and Hurricane, Utah.  Zion Lodge is the most convenient location as it is in the Park; however, it’s expensive ($200+ per night), and rooms are in high demand. Springdale is the town at the entrance of Zion NP and is a convenient location; however, accommodations are expensive. Hurricane is about 25 minutes west of Zion and is where I would recommend staying. We stayed in Hurricane as accommodations were more affordable and with the money we saved, we were able to eat out for three days. Hurricane also has a nice little park with an impressive splash pad. We stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham, in Hurricane and I’d definitely recommend the hotel. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was affordable, clean, had a nice breakfast buffet, and a nice pool and whirlpool. Read more about her adventures in Zion National Park with toddlers.

Utah book

1. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was the first national park in the world, and it is also one of the largest of the national parks in the U.S. Located mostly in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park has five entrances and a varied topography. With 60 percent of the earth’s geysers located inside Yellowstone, the park is a captivating, hands-on science lesson for kids. It is primarily known for its’ collection of geothermal features such as hot springs, geysers, and boiling mud pots.

Yellowstone is the best national park vacation because it offers families a great place to disconnect, bond, and enjoy the outdoors. Whether camping, hiking, biking, or simply sightseeing, your family will make some unforgettable memories and experience some of the most spectacular natural wonders in the US.

Yellowstone NP the national parks

To really explore the vastness of Yellowstone, families would need at the very least 2-3 days to see the fascinating natural wonders and abundant wildlife. A visit to Old Faithful gives you the opportunity to watch an active geyser erupt, while a short hike to the overlook of Grand Prismatic Spring gives you a bird’s eye view of one of the largest hot springs in the world. There are also many waterfalls just off the highway that you can stop and take pictures in front of or take small hikes to view them close up (Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Firehole Falls, Kepler Cascades, and Gibbon Falls). Mammoth Hot Springs is another unique sight to see. The kids will love the upper and lower terraces, as they look like upside down caves and it seems as if you are on another planet.

The park boasts several beautiful lakes and rivers, and more than 200 species of animals. In terms of wildlife viewing, there are two major valleys to drive and see the herds of bison, deer, moose, wolves, and even bears – Hayden and Lamar Valley. Animals are everywhere in Yellowstone! Park rangers advise being on the lookout when you are driving through the roads for a herd or a lone bison just grazing or walking along. Due to the amount of wildlife along the roads, people often stop to take pictures. This causes huge delays and is the reason why traffic is always an issue at Yellowstone. You will see the biggest game animals active early in the morning or later at dusk.

bison the national parks

Although the geothermal features and the wildlife do present a certain amount of perceived danger, Yellowstone is perfectly safe for families, as long as you use precautions. It is recommended that you carry bear spray when doing any hiking outside of the major tourist areas, and do not leave the marked trails or boardwalks. Yellowstone is a remarkable natural area filled with towering canyons, hot springs, lush forests, natural geysers, alpine rivers and lakes, and dramatic landscapes. That is why Yellowstone National Park is my top pick for best national park vacation.

Yellowstone

Where to Stay Near Yellowstone

AirBnB in Island Park

Recommended by: Cath – Passports and Adventures

If you are visiting Yellowstone National Park with kids and looking to stay outside of the park, I can highly recommend finding an AirBnB in Island Park, Idaho. Less of a town, and more an area, it is located just 30 minutes from the West Gate of Yellowstone. There we found a lovely cabin in the woods which would suit families. Quiet and secluded, we had a home-away-from-home with all the comforts and even came into contact with other animals we didn’t see in the park. With a local garage for gas and supplies nearby, it meant we were close to the park without having to stay inside and pay parks prices for accommodation. Check out where we stayed here.

the national parks idaho

Days Inn West Yellowstone

Recommended by: Leona from Wandermust Family

If you are looking for a great family place to stay near Yellowstone National Park, I heartily recommend West Yellowstone! Although if you can book far enough in advance, a lodge in the park is a great time saver! If you haven’t booked far enough in advance or you decide not to stay in Yellowstone National Park itself you will need to stay in one of the towns just outside of the park. The closest town is West Yellowstone with most of the hotels only a few minutes drive from the entrance to Yellowstone. However please note that from the West Yellowstone entrance it is still around a 40-minute drive to Old Faithful Geyser.

While we were in West Yellowstone we stayed at the Days Inn West Yellowstone; however, there are lots of chain hotels with child-friendly amenities such as pools which is great after a day in the park! The town itself has lots of nice restaurants and useful shops which is perfect for families! Read about her Yellowstone Tips and Tricks.

Days Inn Yellowstone

Three Bear Lodge

Recommended by: Shannon from The TV Traveler

Three Bear Lodge, located just two blocks from the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, is the perfect place to stay for your family vacation. The unique accommodations offer a choice between the oversized “lodge” rooms or the more budget-friendly “motel” section. But don’t let the word motel give you the wrong impression – all the rooms here are recently refurbished and include refrigerators, microwaves, TVs, and free wi-fi.  

My family stayed in the motel section and loved the rustic warmth and furniture made from reclaimed wood. We also had full use of the beautiful lodge common area, as well as the fitness center, laundry facilities, spa, and pool. Besides its super-convenient location to the park, Three Bear Lodge is within walking distance of the town’s many restaurants and shopping. 

Three Bear Lodge Yellowstone

Norris Campground

Recommended by: Martha from Quirky Globetrotter

There’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than camping under the stars, especially in your favorite national park. The Norris Campground in Yellowstone National Park is the perfect home base for you during your stay. The campground is centrally located between the north and south areas of the park in between the Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful. The campground is nestled in the middle of the park and has a small meadow where families can hike together and immerse themselves into the outdoors. Read more about camping in Yellowstone here.

yellowstone book

National Parks Road Trip

Hopefully after reading this, you may want to consider a National parks road trip. It is a great way to bond as a family and see some of the spectacular natural beauty the U.S. has to offer. Besides hiking, both kids and families can learn a lot about the national park itself through various programs and junior ranger activities. Campgrounds offer a great low-cost option and provide opportunities for camping activities with kids. There are plenty of family glamping opportunities near the national parks. I am hoping to visit many more beautiful areas around the country and have more national park vacations in the coming years. Here are some of our favorite national park family pictures.

The national parks aren’t the only beautiful areas of the country. State parks offer fantastic opportunities for hiking, camping, and picturesque views. Check out this review of the most scenic state park in each state.

State parks

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Best National Park Vacations

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16 thoughts on “The National Parks: 10 Family Vacation Ideas”

  1. LOVED this! As I read your post, I kept saying to myself, “Oh! My favorite NP!…..OH wait! This is actually me favorite!” … Aren’t they all so amazing? 🙂 I haven’t been to Grand Teton yet!

  2. What a great list! I can see that we have some more places to cross off our National Park map. Thank you for sharing all of these great places!

  3. We’ve been to exactly half of these. So many great parks in this nation. Thank you for the round up as we obviously have more to get out there and see.

  4. Fun! Our family has been to two of these national parks already, and we will be checking off three more this summer. Can’t wait!!!

  5. There are so many amazing US National Parks! We loved our time in Yosemite and would love to discover more.

  6. This is so great!!! I was just looking for something like this to decide where to go for our next trip. We already have Arches lined up for May, thinking Tetons for June/July. This will be so helpful for planning out these trips 🙂

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