11 Best National Parks for Families to Explore

Published February 1, 2021
Family at Grand Canyon National Park

From coast to coast, some of the best national parks for families include a mix of activities that will keep everyone happy. There are scenic drives, short family-friendly hikes, junior ranger programs, and much more. Whether you're planning a national park vacation for your family or simply plan to see a few of these treasured places of natural beauty, make sure you check out the 11 parks on this list.

1. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of the most beloved national parks for a reason: it offers some truly spectacular experiences for visitors of all ages. From geysers like Old Faithful to the rainbow waters of the Grand Prismatic Springs, you could spend several very memorable days exploring the park with kids. Covering over 3,500 square miles in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it's a huge place and a must stop on any national park vacation for families.

Sign for Yellowstone National Park

Why Yellowstone Is Great for Families

There are tons of reasons to go to Yellowstone with the family, but the most important is that there are days worth of kid-friendly outdoor activities to enjoy. Older kids will love the day hikes and scenic drives, and if you're visiting national parks with toddlers, you'll be glad of the many hands-on activities and all the space to let them run. You can view stunning waterfalls and canyons, get to know wildlife like elk and bison, and even take a ride in a stagecoach or covered wagon. There's also a Young Scientist program that allows kids over age 5 to fill out a free activity booklet and exchange it for a free souvenir.

Things to Consider

If you're planning a national park road trip or family vacation, book your Yellowstone stay early. Campgrounds, cabins, and hotels fill up months ahead of time, especially during the summer. You should also plan to spend at least three or four days here, since there's so much to see and do.

2. Yosemite National Park

Located in the Seira Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite National Park is a must-see for families. Everyone will love the stunning waterfall views and amazingly huge Sequoia trees. There are scenic drives, day hikes, and much more to explore at what may the most beautiful national park in the country. This is one of the best places to spend time together as a family.

Yosemite National Park

Why Yosemite Is Great for Families

Yosemite is one of the best national parks for families because of its breathtaking natural beauty that's easily accessible to all ages. There's a Junior Ranger program that lets kids purchase a little booklet they can fill out as they explore the park. It makes the experience interactive and gives them an instant souvenir.

Things to Consider

Yosemite is extremely popular. If you've visiting during the summer, expect to deal with crowds and traffic. This can be a challenge with kids, so it's good to have plenty to do in the car in case you have to wait. Also, be sure to make camping or hotel reservations early, since things fill up.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

On the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is full of scenic drives, spectacular waterfalls, and beautiful hikes. It's a great choice if you're setting up a national park vacation for your family, since there's plenty for kids to do.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Why Great Smoky Mountains Is Great for Families

Great Smoky Mountains has a ton of great family activities, including horseback riding, accessible day hikes, and even tubing. If you visit in June, you may also see a huge number of fireflies. There's also a Junior Ranger program that helps make exploring an interactive experience for kids.

Things to Consider

It's important to note that some of the scenic drives in Great Smoky Mountains National Park are reserved for bicycles on certain days. You should confirm the schedule with the park before you go so you can plan your vacation accordingly. In addition, this is a park that gets a lot of rainfall, so be sure to pack rain jackets and umbrellas for everyone.

4. Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park in Montana is another of the best national parks for a family road trip or vacation. This park comprises more than 1,000,000 acres, although most of it is only accessible by foot. There's still tons to explore with kids, though, including the amazingly picturesque Going to the Sun road. Add in some kid-friendly hikes, and you'll have an amazing visit.

Glacier National Park

Why Glacier Is Great for Families

If you're visiting national parks with toddlers and young kids, Glacier has enough going on to keep them occupied. The Apgar Nature Center has a lot of hands-on activities to keep little ones entertained, and there is a Junior Ranger program for kids of all ages with plenty of fun options. Kids can learn about Native American games and the wildlife that lives at the park.

Things to Consider

Like many of the parks on this list, Glacier National Park gets really busy in the summer. Book your lodging early, and if you want minimal traffic, try to time your scenic drives for early in the day or during the lunch hour.

5. Zion National Park

Easily one of the most beautiful national parks, Zion boasts some of the most incredible scenery and accessible hiking you'll ever encounter. It's perfect for kids, whether you have babies in a stroller or teens tagging along. To keep traffic to a minimum, Zion uses shuttle busses to ferry people around the park. The bus experience is fun, and it lets you see a lot of what the park has to offer.

Zion National Park

Why Zion Is Great for Families

Zion has a wealth of family-friendly hiking with paved or easily-accessed trails. Explore the Virgin River on the Riverside Walk, which takes you to the famed Narrows. There are some incredible scenic drives, too, for when those little legs get tired. Plus, Zion has a Junior Ranger program to help kids stay entertained and engaged throughout their visit.

Things to Consider

Because you can't drive your car in Zion during the summer months, come prepared to do some walking between shuttle stops. If you have little ones, a stroller is a must. Also bring plenty of water for everyone, since the desert heat can be intense.

6. Grand Canyon National Park

The ultimate American experience, Grand Canyon National Park is a must-see. It's also one of the best national parks for families because of the sheer number of incredible views and accessible trails. There's enough happening here to keep you busy for a long time, even if you're traveling with little ones.

Grand Canyon National Park

Why Grand Canyon National Park Is Great for Families

Seeing the Grand Canyon together is an incredible experience and one your kids will remember for the rest of their lives. In addition, there's a lot that makes Grand Canyon National Park family-friendly. There's a Junior Ranger program here with a wonderful activity booklet, and there's even a Sesame Street Video to help prepare your kids for the Grand Canyon experience.

Things to Consider

Grand Canyon National Park is busy in the summer months, and it's also hot. Bring plenty of water so everyone stays hydrated. It's also worth noting that there are guard rails everywhere, but an intrepid toddler or preschooler can get through them easily. You'll have peace of mind if you hold your child's hand anytime they are near the edge.

7. Acadia National Park

Located in Maine, Acadia National Park offers incredible ocean shoreline, hiking trails, beautiful views, and so much more. The whole family will love swimming and exploring on foot, bike, or car. You can even check out tidepools and learn about ocean life.

Acadia National Park

Why Acadia Is Great for Families

Acadia is one of the best national parks for families because it offers so much to do for every age. Even babies and toddlers will love the beach, and older kids will delight in looking for wild blueberries and exploring the many wonderful family-friendly hiking opportunities. There's also a nature center and a wonderful Junior Ranger program.

Things to Consider

Acadia is a bit smaller than other national parks, but it's still really popular. This can make parking a challenge. If you'll be there during the summer months, try to get there early in the morning. Learn the tide times so you can arrive at the correct time to check out tide pools. Also bring windbreakers, since the wind off the ocean can be quite strong.

8. Shenandoah National Park

Located in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a must-see for families. It features the incredible Skyline Drive with stunning views and plenty of places to stop and let the kids get out and play. It's also a great place to look for waterfalls.

Shenandoah National Park

Why Shenandoah Is Great for Families

In addition to plenty of places to stop and explore, Shenandoah has a lot to offer families. There's a Junior Ranger program, as well as classes especially for kids to teach them about the park. There are lots of short hikes that won't tire out little legs too.

Things to Consider

Because Shenandoah is so popular in the summer and fall, consider visiting in the spring if you'd like to avoid the crowds. Weather can be a bit cooler, but there's still plenty to do. Bring a light rain jacket any time of the year so you're prepared for a shower.

9. Rocky Mountain National Park

With its prime location in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park has some extraordinary views to delight the entire family. It's over 400 square miles of astounding mountain scenery, and there are some amazing scenic drives that everyone will enjoy.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Why Rocky Mountain National Park Is Great for Families

In addition to some wonderful drives, Rocky Mountain National Park has many family-friendly hikes to see waterfalls, impressive vistas, and wild animals. There's also a great discovery center for kids with hands-on exhibits.

Things to Consider

The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park with family is in the summer. That's because the weather can be somewhat unpredictable at other times in the year. Unfortunately, the park can also become very busy during the summer, so try to get there early if you can.

10. Everglades National Park

Florida's Everglades National Park offers 1.5 million acres of wildlife to explore, and nothing could be more fun for the family. There are lots of ways to experience this park, including hiking, boating, and biking. There are guided tours as well, allowing you to experience the wildlife with someone who can tell you all about it.

Everglades National Park

Why Everglades National Park Is Great for Families

The Everglades provide a unique family experience due to the vast wetlands encompassed by the park. Kids will love exploring with an airboat or kayak, and there's a Junior Ranger program to make the entire visit memorable and interactive.

Things to Consider

Depending on the time of year, Everglades National Park can be incredibly hot. Always bring plenty of water, and don't forget insect repellant. You should also be prepared for rain.

11. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in Washington is one of the best national parks for families. Offering Pacific coastline, rainforest, mountains with glaciers, and much more, there's simply no end to the things you can see and do together. Don't skip the incredible hiking, especially the Hall of Mosses, which is a short and accessible walk for little legs.

Olympic National Park

Why Olympic Is Great for Families

Olympic National Park offers much for families to do. In addition to hiking, kids will love exploring the coast line and examining tide pools for star fish. There's also a wonderful visitor's center with hands-on activities and wildlife.

Things to Consider

Because this is the Pacific Northwest, expect clouds and rain on your trip. Bring rain gear for everyone so you can enjoy your visit, no matter what the weather is doing. Like other popular national parks, it's important to book your accommodations early.

The Best National Parks for Families Make Planning Easy

Planning a family vacation is easy when you include some of the best national parks for families in your itinerary. Remember, most national parks have an entrance fee unless someone in your family has special needs like autism or Down's Syndrome. However, fees are low, and you can spend most of your vacation budget on accommodations. National parks are some of the best family vacation spots in the country, so get ready to have some fun.

11 Best National Parks for Families to Explore