My husband and I recently became convinced that when it comes to family tourism, nothing beats a visit to one of America’s great national parks. A park trip combines all the things we’d ideally want children to soak up when sight-seeing: nature, adventure, history, and, perhaps best of all with young kids, space to explore without fear of someone getting left behind on the subway platform. And, oh: Compared to a big, bustling city, or, for godsakes, a theme park, the cost tends to be right, too.
For our first big park trip, we stayed close to home, and went to the first East Coast national park ever created: Acadia National Park in Maine. None of us had been there before, which was ideal: Part of the magic of a great family trip is experiencing something amazing together for the first time—like Thunder Hole, where the Atlantic surf crashes into a cave-like break in the craggy Maine rocks to create a huge wake and roaring sound.
Our appreciation of the awesomeness of our national park system has only grown since finding out that several times a year, park admittance is free. This weekend (April 20-22, 2017), for instance, admission is free at all 412 national park sites. That includes the biggies—the 59 “main” parks (think Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Redwood National Forest) as well as national military and historic parks (like Gettysburg).There’s no doubt a park near you that you’ve been meaning to explore—or didn’t even know about. For help in finding your next destination, go to this easy “Find Your Park” tool on the NPS site.
For bigger trips, consider planning now for a summer 2017 or spring 2018 visit. The best hotels and campsites around popular parks fill up fast. See charts of most popular destinations as well as most underrated (and, score, under-trafficked) spots, below. Get kids involved and excited about planning with a book: Younger ones will like the new Our Great Big Backyard, the surprisingly entertaining read created to commemorate the NPS anniversary by Laura Bush and daughter Jenna. Older elementary- and middle-schoolers can bookmark their bucket-list faves in National Geographic’s National Parks Guide USA.
10 Most Visited National Parks (with links)
|Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee)|
|Grand Canyon (Arizona)|
|Rocky Mountains (Colorado)|
|Yellowstone (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)|
|Grand Teton (Wyoming)|