A few years ago, we decided to start visiting National Parks as a family. Exploring our country’s most beautiful places has become a tradition we look forward to each year. These trips require some good planning, especially when traveling with kids.
Tips for Traveling with Kids to a National Park
Manage your Expectations
Kids still have meltdowns on vacations, don’t expect perfection, have fun and listen to everyone’s needs.
Know your Kids’ Limits
How long can they hike? Choose trails that you know are doable, then you can build from there. Depending on how old your kids are, carriers can also be helpful.
Hiking boots are a must, and it is great to bring some water shoes as well. Check the weather and trail conditions before you go so you don’t have any surprises.
Discuss Safety at National Parks
Safety is always important to discuss prior to entering the park. Be “bear aware” and stay on trails. These places are beautiful but also can be dangerous. Also teach kids to “leave no trace” and respect and preserve nature.
Involve Kids in the Trip Planning
Is there something specific they want to see or do? You can look at trails before and have them select a hike that looks fun for them. Also, let them pick out snacks or what you will have for dinner one night. My daughter loves choosing special camping snacks for our trips.
Always Carry Snacks
Are you hiking? Bring extra snacks. Driving? Snacks. You can never have enough snacks when being active and after extended periods in the car.
Bring Lots of Water
Staying hydrated is vital for everyone.
Plan Car Activities
National Parks are large, there can often be long periods getting from point A to point B. Tablets, coloring books, cards and small toys that are easily packed are very helpful.
Stop at the Visitor Center
There is an awesome Junior Ranger program available that your kids can participate in. Kids can get a Junior Ranger activity book to complete while in the park, then show their answers to a Park Ranger at the end of the trip. They can earn a patch and certificate.
Choose Alternative Activities to Avoid Burnout
Hike one day, then explore a lake the next. Many parks have bike and boat rentals available; this is a really fun way to see the park in a new way.
Enjoy the Local Area around the Park
Support local restaurants and shops and try regional cuisine.
Get a Souvenir
We let our daughter pick out a magnet as a fun reminder of our trip.
Many National Parks are close to National Forests and State Parks. If you have extra time, it can be fun to explore these areas as well. They are often less crowded and offer beautiful views. You can have a picnic or get out and stretch your legs for a bit. Due to the increase in popularity, several National Parks have implemented a timed-entry system. For these parks you must have a ticket for a specific date and time. These can be found online.
Enjoy your trip! Try your best to go with the flow and appreciate the beauty in these extraordinary places.