When I was a kid, my parents would load the family van and we’d head to Rocky Mountain National Park. We never knew exactly what the day would entail, but we knew it would be a fun adventure.
In the summer, we went on hikes and my dad would point out different birds and plants. Later, we’d stop for a picnic and then drive through the park to view wildlife. During the winter months, the park looked completely different and offered cold-weather fun. We’d lace up our snow boots and trek the icy trail around Bear Lake. Other times, we’d go sledding and tubing down snow-covered hills.
Here are a few of my favorite national parks for my own family's version of fun. When my kids are grown, I'm sure they'll cherish the adventures we had in the great outdoors.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is a unique blend of forest, mountains, and lakes. The beaches are a top draw for families, especially Sand Beach. The water can be chilly, but that never seems to stop the little ones from splashing in the waves.
The Junior Ranger program, available at visitor centers throughout the park, is specially designed for kids. Park rangers offer guided hikes, campfire talks, and tide pool explorations. Little ones can earn a Junior Ranger badge if they complete the program.
With more than 150 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty of options for seeing the natural beauty of the park. Popular trails for families include Ocean Path, Jordan Pond Path, and the Wonderland Trail.
If you like biking, the park has 45 miles of historic carriage roads. Since the carriage roads are wide, smooth, and free of cars, they’re perfect for biking with children.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is a hidden gem. Since 1935, the park has drawn generations of families to its 500 miles of trails, waterfalls, and scenic views.
Skyline Drive is a popular 105-mile roadway that travels through the park's forests, valleys, and mountains. Along the way, you can stop at overlooks, enjoy a meal at one of the many picnic areas, or go to the visitor centers to learn about the park's ecology. Be sure to ask about the park’s ranger-led programs, including hikes and wildlife viewing experiences.
Many visitors come to Shenandoah National Park for camping. You can choose from five campgrounds for RV and tent camping, or opt for numerous back-country camping locations for a more remote experience.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park, Colorado, this national park has been drawing visitors since 1915, when President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation designating the 265,807 acres of mountains, meadows, and lakes for protection and recreation. You'll be amazed at the stunning views in all directions.
Explore kid-friendly hiking trails like Lilly Lake, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake. Rocky Mountain National Park has an excellent Junior Ranger program. You can stop at any of the visitor contact stations to pick up a Junior Ranger activity book, available for different age levels. The Junior Ranger Headquarters, located in the Hidden Valley area of the park, offers ranger-led programs and other activities.
The Hidden Valley region is also a former ski area, with spectacular hills for wintertime sledding and tubing. You’ll need to bring your own sleds and tubes.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Glacier National Park in Montana is a pristine wilderness spanning 1 million acres. It has more than 130 named lakes and is famous for its 26 remaining glaciers. With their bright blue and white colors, the glaciers are an unforgettable sight.
Offering 700 miles of hiking trails, families have plenty of choices. Glacier National Park is home to bears, moose, mountain goats, elk, and bighorn sheep—all which can be safely observed from the road, hiking trails, and on ranger-led programs. Remember to always keep your distance for safe viewing.
The park has several scenic drives, including the popular Going-to-the-Sun Road. Activities for families include camping, fishing, boating, kayaking, and horseback riding. Don’t miss the visitor centers, which offer excellent background on the park and ranger-led programs.