Family NP

This article was originally published on June 3, 2022.

Imagine standing on the shore of a pristine alpine lake, surrounded by the surrounding mountains. Or walking through a tunnel that cuts through some of the greatest trees on the planet. Or see real dinosaur fossils embedded in a desert wall.

America’s national parks are filled with some of the best features on the planet and are the protected home of some of the nation’s most diverse history. They may seem like a bold and harsh place for intrepid explorers, but most are accessible. If you’ve been considering a family trip this summer, visiting one of the national parks is a great way to explore the wonders of the world, build essential memories, and help your children learn more about the United States’ diverse and complex history.

The best national parks for kids

The National Park Service offers many ways to get your kids involved in the parks, including the Passport Stamp Booklet, the Junior Ranger Program and other ranger-led programs. Below we’ve listed some of the best parks to help kids discover their adventurous spirit and learn a thing or two. It goes without saying that they are among the best national parks for families in general.

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Dinosaur National Monument may not be Utah’s largest park, but it is home to some of Earth’s oldest inhabitants—their fossils, anyway.

In 1909 Earl Douglas, paleontologist of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, discovered a site with a large number of dinosaur fossils, coining the park’s name, Dinosaur National Monument. There are over 350 tons of fossils in a tilted rock formation that researchers believe was once a sand bank on a river bank.

The Career Showroom it covers part of the exposed rock wall and allows visitors to come face to face with dinosaurs and plant fossils. There’s even one you can touch. Outside the exhibit hall, there are family-friendly trails that will take you past prehistoric sea creature fossils and Native American Petroglyphs which are nearly 1000 years old. Keep an eye out for lizards—small cousins ​​of the dinosaurs—as you walk the trails.

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The monument stretches across the northern border of Utah and into Colorado. Utah Country is best visited with children, as most of Colorado Country can only be accessed with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

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Sequoia National Park in California was the second national park created after that Mackinac Island National Park transferred to state park. The park is aptly named because it is home to some of the greatest trees on the planet—SEquoiadendron giganteum. Standing 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter at the base, General Sherman is the largest tree in the park and in the world by volume.

While these giant trees are something to marvel at, kids will also enjoy them 200 caves the park has to offer. They can learn all about how caves are formed and the rare animals and minerals that these caves contain. With towering trees and spectacular caves, this park feels a bit like a fairy tale. Children will love learning about the “magic” of the natural world, and it may even inspire them to respect nature.

(Credit: Jeffrey M. Frank/Shutterstock)

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is home to alpine lakes, forests, grasslands, and the tallest dunes in North America. What makes it one of the most fun national parks for families and kids is that this park is great for hiking and biking, but most people visit for sand surfing, sledding, and tubing in Medano Creek.

You can walk the sandy slopes with sand sleds and boards for rent. But you may want to wear sunglasses or goggles to avoid getting sand in your eyes. After sand surfing, tubing down Medano Creek is a great way to cool off. Snowmelt high in the Rockies makes its way from alpine lakes to streams and eventually starts a creek at the base of the dunes. A unique feature of this creek is shock flow. As the water flows, sand ridges build up underwater and after a short time the sand ridges break and send a wave cascading down the creek.

One of the best features of this park happens after sunset. Great Sand Dunes National Park is International Dark Sky star gazing area. On moonless nights you can watch for meteors, name constellations, look for planets and learn all about astronomy.

(Credit: Alexey Styop/Shutterstock)

Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is the perfect combination of ocean and mountains. Get up early and watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain and see the sun first in North America.

Explore the park on easy to moderate hiking trails. If you’re up for a challenge and your kids are a little older, check out the Beehive Trail. Metal bars built into the mountain’s walls make for a fun climb as long as you’re not afraid of heights.

If you’re by the ocean, check out some of the park’s tidal pools. Tidal pools are small marine ecosystems, home to starfish, crustaceans and marine plants. Remember to be careful and respectful of tide pools. Here’s a list of things you should know before you go tide pooling in Acadia National Park.

(Credit: Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock)

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular parks and it’s easy to see why. This massive park is home to a variety of animals and unique geological features. Kids can see all kinds of wildlife, from buffalo to moose, mules, wolves and bears—just make sure to keep a safe distance.

Because Yellowstone National Park sits atop a hotspot, you can find thermal features such as geysers, mud pots, and hot springs throughout the park. These elements can be dangerous, but the National Park Service has built wooden walkways so you can walk safely among the unique elements. Gather to watch Old Faithful – the massive geyser erupts.

Yellowstone is also home to many Indian traditions from several tribes, including the cultures of the Great Plains, the Great Basin, and the Columbia Plateau. You can learn how these tribes used certain plants and herbs for medicine and ceremonial areas in the park.

All national parks are worth visiting. But if you’re looking for more adventurous national parks for kids, you shouldn’t miss these places. Please remember to respect the park, the people who work there, the history and the meaning of this land and to leave no traces.

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