Top 10 U.S. National Parks to Visit With Kids

America’s parks are the ultimate outdoor classroom for toddlers and teens alike.

Father and Children Exploring Desert Landscape

Screens? Where we’re going we don’t need screens.

Photo by Karen Culp/Shutterstock

Scrambling on rocks. Wading in cool creeks and learning the art of skipping stones. Spotting a bald eagle. And of course, packing plenty of trail mix to keep the entire gang moving along. National parks are the playgrounds where family vacation memories are made.

Whether you’re traveling with preschoolers (read them the picture book, If I Were a Park Ranger) or teens, discover nature’s beauty together—mountain peaks, vast forests, clear lakes, and so much more— at these 10 family-friendly national parks across the United States. With child-friendly trails, Junior Ranger programs, and opportunities to learn about nature and wildlife, they should keep any kid occupied.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Sixty miles from Seattle and visible throughout the region, Mount Rainier stands tall at 14,410 feet and is home to some 25 glaciers. A great entry point for families is Paradise, an area just south of the mountain, with the 1.8-mile Alta Vista trail starting right from the visitor center area. Even in spring, kids can enjoy playing in patches of snow, but by late summer, alpine meadows ringing the mountain put on a spectacular display of color.

Where to stay

For a longer visit, rest your head at the park’s 121-room Paradise Inn or at a nearby lodge. For day-trippers from Seattle, the 223-room Edgewater, on Elliott Bay, is within walking distance of Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.

Joshua Tree national park

Joshua Tree National Park’s namesake trees will linger in imaginations long after the trip.

Photo by Blue Traveler/Shutterstock

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Between the twisted, spiky namesake trees (like something out of a Dr. Seuss book!) and piles of granite boulders beckoning to be scaled, Joshua Tree is a family favorite for good reason. Easily accessible from the park’s north (Twentynine Palms) and west (Joshua Tree) entrances, the Hidden Valley trail is the perfect one-mile loop with ample rock formations to scramble on before settling down for a picnic lunch.

Where to stay

Most families opt for a house rental (with pool) in the area, but consider the newish Autocamp, where tricked out Airstreams, with high–thread count linens and walk-in rain showers, have camping vibes without any of the work.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (and North Carolina)

The Smokies get their name from organic particles emitted by the vegetation, creating that famous bluish haze along the mountaintops. Grab a Junior Ranger booklet at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and continue to Clingman’s Dome, an observation tower in the park interior that rewards families with stunning views (without the steady uphill climb). The more popular waterfalls (Laurel, Rainbow, Grotto) are thronged by visitors quickly. Instead, hit some of the smaller (but equally beautiful) cascades such as Mouse Creek Falls or Lynn Camp Prong Cascades, where kids can take their time admiring fallen leaves, splashing in creeks, and looking for salamanders.

Where to stay

Nestled in the wilderness beyond Gatlinburg, Stony Brook Cabins’ collection of multi-bedroom mountain homes feature floor-to-ceiling windows, modern kitchens, and wraparound decks.

The view of Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon offers views that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

Photo by My Good Images/Shutterstock

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It’s hard for adults, let alone kids, to wrap their head around the geological layer cake that is the Grand Canyon. For deeper context, book a short family tour with the nonprofit Field Institute, and a guide will point out fossils and show littles how to collect pinyon pine nuts. Rent bikes from Bright Angel Bicycles, next to the visitor center, and ride along a portion of the South Rim as you take in this immense natural wonder. Tandems also available for younger ones. (And not to worry: A stone wall and wide bicycle path means you’re several feet from the edge.)

Where to stay

Spot roadrunners sprinting by from the porch of your minimalist “tent” at Under Canvas (30 minutes from the South Rim entrance), where the gang can roast s’mores and stargaze come night.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Along Maine’s rugged coast, Acadia spans some 47,000 acres, largely on Mount Desert Island, known as MDI. Pine woodlands meet lighthouse-topped rocky beaches and granite peaks, including Cadillac Mountain, for a landscape that’s a photographer’s dream. Families won’t want to miss the tidepools in Bar Harbor (the town on the east side of MDI), where kiddos can spy hermit crabs, sea stars, urchins, mussels, and more.

Where to stay

Overlooking Somes Sound, the Claremont, dating back to 1884, debuted freshly updated digs and a pool in 2022. The hotel’s affiliated cottages and cabins, equipped with kitchens, give families flexibility, too.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Wild and scenic, Glacier boasts jagged peaks and turquoise lakes (including showstopper Lake MacDonald measuring 10 miles long). The .9-mile Trail of Cedars, largely on flat boardwalk, is a great introduction. Or join one of Swan Mountain Outfitters’ beginner-friendly horseback riding adventures, starting from three corrals (Apgar, Lake MacDonald, and Many Glacier).

Where to stay

Longtime park concessionaire, Glacier Park Collection by Pursuit operates several lodges in and around the park, along with excursions such as rafting and fishing. Given Glacier National Park’s expanse, families will want to start at the 144-room Grouse Mountain Lodge in the town of Whitefish, just outside the park, and later move to Glacier Park Lodge on the park’s eastern side.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

An easy day trip from Denver, Rocky Mountain features 355 miles of hiking trails, 147 lakes, and 77 mountains taller than 12,000 feet. Among the classic and family-friendly hikes and drives: Bear Lake (an easy half-mile loop!), Alluvial Fan (rock scrambling), and scenic Trail Ridge Road (known as the highway to the sky as it gains elevation in minutes). And tell everyone to keep their eyes peeled for elk, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, and marmots.

Where to stay

The 200-room Limelight Hotel (formerly Kimpton Born) feels like a modern chalet. Plus, it has an unbeatable location adjacent to Union Station, Denver’s 1914 Beaux Arts train station that’s been repurposed into a complex of trendy restaurants, bars, and shops.

Redwoods National & State Parks, California

This string of parks (along with Humboldt Redwoods State Park) in northern California is home to the largest surviving stands of old growth coastal redwoods, soaring 350 feet up. Walk the Founders Grove, spotting the fallen Dyerville Giant (17 feet in diameter), and get lost among the ferns and towering trees on the .7-mile Rockefeller Loop. Both trails are within Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Don’t miss Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where Roosevelt elk are known to graze.

Where to stay

Campgrounds and rentals abound in the region, but the Carter House Inns, comprising a few Victorian houses and cottages, are well-located in old town Eureka, near coffee shops, restaurants, and beaches.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah’s serene landscape of rocky summits, wooded hollows, and waterfalls got the ultimate seal of approval in John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and it’s also a great national park for families. Blackroad Summit is a short 1.1-mile hike that rewards with spectacular valley views, while Lands Run Falls features a series of cascades that descend into a gorge. A scenic byway that runs through the park, Skyline Drive is a riot of golds, oranges, and scarlet reds during autumn.

Where to stay

Only 30 minutes outside the park, the charming college town of Charlottesville offers several hotel and restaurant options (not to mention Jefferson’s Monticello nearby). Check into the art-filled Draftsman, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

Bryce Canyon National Park

A trip to a park like Bryce Canyon will earn serious bragging rights when your kids are asked to discuss what they did on their vacation.

Photo by Silky/Shutterstock

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Synonymous with those mysterious crimson-hued hoodoos (irregular columns of rocks), Bryce Canyon in southern Utah looks like another planet. Several easier hikes include the half mile Rim Trail, which is flat and paved, as well as Mossy Cove and Bristlecone Loop. Ideal for those night owl teens, Bryce’s dark, starry skies are legendary. Inquire about ranger-led astronomy programs or book through Dark Ranger Telescope Tours.

Where to stay

Take advantage of another glamping opportunity and base your family at the solar-powered Under Canvas’s Bryce Canyon location, where the safari-style tents sit among juniper trees.

Los Angeles–based Tanvi Chheda has been writing about travel for 15 years for publications such as the New York Times, Virtuoso Life, Delta’s Sky, Robb Report, and Travel + Leisure, where she got her start as an assistant editor. She loves taking her kids along on adventures and seeing places through their eyes.
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