The national parks make for great family vacations. The best national parks for kids are those that provide adventure, unique scenery, and “not too hard” hiking trails. Our family of four visited our first national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, in the winter of 2014. Since then, we try to visit a national park whenever we are nearby on a road trip and even plan road trips where the national parks are the main focus. Here are some recommendations for the best national park vacations that the entire family will enjoy, including where to stay, what to hike, and what to do. These national park vacation ideas will help you start to plan your next family trip sooner rather than later.
Best National Park Vacations
Planning a family road trip is not an easy task, especially when you are driving long distances. In the video below, I share how I planned a national park family road trip for 18 days, as well as some other useful road trip tips. It turned out to be the best national park vacation we have had as a family!
For us, national park vacations offer the best value because we planned two major family road trips the years our kids were in 4th grade. We obtained a free 4th grade national park pass that allowed our entire family a year’s worth of visits to any national park we wanted. We also try to visit national park sites and monuments on our travels to always keep learning about our country.
10 Best National Parks for Kids
Here is a list of what I feel are the best national parks for kids. You will find some hiking recommendations, suggestions on where to stay, and basic tips when visiting the national parks as a family. Here are my ten national park vacation ideas:
10. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in Utah, just north of the charming city of Moab. Arches
Arches National Park has many hiking trails, many of which are considered easy to moderate. This is what makes Arches one of the best national parks 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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. If you are looking for more of a drive, then the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail will offer some great views from the car.
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
Rent through AirBnB
Renting a house or a cabin is a great way for families to gain more space, views, and privacy. While we do stay at our loyalty hotel brands to gain more points for future travel, we change it up in certain situations. A house usually offers a full kitchen, which allows you to cook simple meals and save money on vacation, and can offer an array of amenities not found in hotel rooms. Check out the cabin we stayed at during our Tennessee vacation. If you have never used Airbnb, sign up here for a discount.
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?
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
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
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
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. The Rim Trail is a paved section right along the rim of the Grand Canyon and offers great views for a gentle hike. You can choose how far you want to go before turning back or take a shuttle back to the start of the hike. 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 during the warmer months.
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 day hike a section of the Bright Angel Trail or the South Kaibab Trail to get some views and pictures of the Grand Canyon from deeper inside the canyon. Other options to reach the bottom are taking a mule ride down or a helicopter tour that lands at the base.
Don’t knock off the Grand Canyon because it is a little difficult to hike down, many adventurous families have done it and some have even gotten permits and stayed overnight at the base. I would recommend this for those families with older kids who have hiked before and are up for the “adventure”. The Grand Canyon can definitely be considered as one of the best national parks for kids, but not in the traditional sense as many of the others on this list.
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.
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. What makes this one of the best national parks for kids is the number of activities there are to do in addition to hiking. 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.
Among the best hikes in Grand Teton for kids are the Lakeshore Trail, Moose Ponds, and Hidden Falls. A stop at one of the visitor centers is also a great activity for kids as the junior ranger activities are entertaining. The mountains of Grand Teton National Park combined with the many lakes in the area make this a picture-perfect trip.
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
Two great options for families to stay inside Grand Teton National Park are:
Recommended by: James Ian at Parks Collecting
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,
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. It is one of the best national parks for kids and the most well known of the California National Parks.
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, which make this one of the best national parks for kids. 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
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Badlands makes for one of the best family national park vacations due to its unique landscape and proximity to Mount Rushmore. 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,
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.
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.
4. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a stunning place and is among the most beautiful areas in the country. It is located in Northeastern Montana and continues up into Canada. If you’re looking for an “outside the box” national park vacation idea, this is it. This park is known for its mountains, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and over 700 miles of hiking trails. It is a hiker’s paradise and also one of the best national parks for kids.
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, especially in the summer. Arrive early to snag a parking space on the trails.
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
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.
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.
3. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is located in the northeastern corner of Maine and makes for one of the best national park vacations. 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.
What makes Acadia one of the best national parks for kids is the amount of easy and “fun” hikes the area has to offer. 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. If the weather is nice, families can enjoy Sand Beach, and watch the waves hit the granite rocks in the distance.
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. Many families drive up the East Coast and make Acadia their final stop. If you are planning on visiting between June-August, be prepared for crowds and arrive early to the trails.
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.
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.
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.
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. This hike is sure to be a kid-pleaser. Other popular hikes include the Emerald Pools 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.
Canyon Overlook Trail, Riverside Walk, and Weeping Rock are great easy trails for kids. If your family has younger children, 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 and a great spot for hiking in Southern Utah.
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.
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.
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 for kids because it offers families a variety of natural features, wildlife, and unique terrain. 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.
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.
Although the geothermal features and the wildlife do present a certain amount of perceived danger, Yellowstone is perfectly safe for families, as
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 park prices for accommodation. Check out where we stayed here.
Days Inn West Yellowstone
Recommended by: Leona from
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.
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,
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.
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. In June 2020, we traveled cross country and planned the route to visit 11 national parks.
National Park Entrance Fees
Most of the time, when you enter a national park, you will pay an entrance fee. For most,
National Parks Road Trip
Hopefully, after reading this, you may want to consider a national parks road trip. The national park vacation ideas suggested here showcase some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, which make exploring the outdoors even more exciting. 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. They also are less crowded than the national parks overall. Check out this review of the most scenic state park in each state.
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