The United States is filled with incredible natural spaces that have been protected as public lands for all to enjoy. I know as someone who didn’t grow up visiting national parks, though, it can feel a bit overwhelming to know what to do and which ones to visit. While these national treasures are set aside for everyone, we’re still working on equitable access, and knowledge is a big piece of that!
Our family has visited over 40 of the 63 US National Parks, as well as dozens of other federally protected sites. They truly are all unique and special, and we haven’t found a single one that we wouldn’t recommend. Still, there are some that are especially wonderful for families with young children. These also make great “intro” parks for those just starting to explore National Parks and other public lands.
Keep reading for the very best US National Parks for families to explore this summer and beyond!
Yosemite National Park
Honestly, it’s hard to beat Yosemite at any age. The stunning views of granite cliffs, pristine meadows, incredible wildlife, the rushing waterfalls, and rivers…it’s pretty magical. It’s easy to see why the Ahwahnee people loved this Valley and lived in a symbiotic relationship with it. Yosemite is an especially wonderful place for families with young children because there are so many opportunities for little ones to explore without needing to go on long trekking adventures. When heading to Yosemite with kids, I highly recommend taking bikes—it’s the very best way to get around the valley. Bring your own using a bike rack mounted to your RV, or you can rent adult sizes once you get there.
Yosemite is also amazing for providing some easy hikes with absolutely spectacular views. Sentinel Dome and Lower Yosemite Falls are especially fantastic! And don’t forget to leave some time for water play. Either go and splash on the shores of the Merced River or take some inflatables and float downstream (just make sure the water levels aren’t too high). Your kids – and you – will be in heaven.
Here’s a full blog post on everything you need to know about visiting Yosemite with kids!
Acadia National Park
Acadia would be amazing anywhere in the country, but it’s especially nice that such a gem is located in the northeast. While so many of the big National Park names are located in the western United States, it’s wonderful to have a truly awe-inspiring option closer to living further east.
Maine’s only National Park has something for every age and ability. There are several wheelchair-accessible and stroller-accessible trails available when traveling with those with differing needs including extended family. There’s also a variety of lodging available in and near the park, including in the town of Bar Harbor. It’s a perfect experience for those who aren’t interested in being totally off the grid in the wilderness and who want some more modern conveniences available to them, while still providing a huge bang for your nature buck.
While there, be sure to check out Sand Beach, and go up to the viewpoint at Cadillac Mountain (reservations for the road are currently required). And don’t miss driving the Park Loop Road – you’ll encounter some stunning scenery along the way right from the convenience of your vehicle. Be sure to stop at the Jordan Pond House for some incredible popovers!
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone was the 2nd most visited National Park last year and with good reason. People flock from around the world to see the vibrantly colored hot springs and shooting geysers first hand. And with good reason – they’re stunning! This is also a park that is great when visiting with all ages and abilities. With a variety of boardwalks and other accessible paths, and opportunities for scenic drives, it’s perfect for everyone from first-time visitors to those on their 10th visits.
While there, kids will love spotting the 4 thermal features – geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. Try to get off the main drag a bit and scope out the West Thumb geyser basin for some amazing ones that are less frequented. Don’t miss heading out to Lamar Valley at sunrise to catch a glimpse of some amazing wildlife, and be sure to stop at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for some incredible waterfall views. Then head up to Mammoth Hot Springs at the northern end of the park to see the ethereal travertine terraces.
After finishing up at Yellowstone, be sure to leave some time to head down to Grand Teton National Park, just an hour or two south. There you’ll find the most pristine alpine lakes and the types of mountain views that you’d draw as a 5-year old just learning to draw mountains. It’s pretty darn magical! Trying to figure out the best way to spend your time? Here’s a Yellowstone itinerary with kids and a Grand Teton itinerary with kids.
White Sands National Park
Though not as popular as some of the big names, White Sands is an absolutely incredible National Park for families! It’s just pure, unadulterated fun, and little ones are sure to love it. Unlike other parks that may require a lot of activity that may seem like “work” for kiddos (hiking, biking, etc.), White Sands doesn’t need any of that to have fun. Instead, it’s basically just a giant sandbox! The world’s largest gypsum dune field is perfect for kids of all ages (even big kids!) to run around and have fun.
There aren’t any official trails at White Sands, though there is a short nature boardwalk to learn a bit about the area. You can also follow unmarked sand trails; just be sure to leave with plenty of light and a good sense of direction, and let the rangers know when you head out.
Other than that, the highlight of White Sands is sledding on the sand dunes. Purchase sleds beforehand in town (they sometimes have them available in the visitors’ center, but not always), and be sure to wax them down so they’re nice and smooth. Then spend the day sledding down over and over. You’ll be shocked at how much fun it is, and also how much energy everyone will burn with climbing back up over and over!
Rocky Mountain National Park
There’s something about mountain lakes and streams that’s incredibly appealing for all ages. Rocky Mountain is perfect for adventurous families into hiking, or for those who really love wildlife. For those who don’t want anything too strenuous, head to Bear Lake. While pristine and stunning, it’s less than a mile around with almost no elevation gain so it’s perfect for varying abilities. This one, and the equally short Sprague Lake trail, are also wheelchair-accessible.
For those who want something a bit more strenuous, consider the Emerald Lake trail, which actually allows you to see three different lakes instead of just one. While the elevation gain makes it a bit more strenuous, it’s well worth the trek for the stunning mountain views.
For those who aren’t interested in hiking Rocky Mountain National Park also boasts the highest paved road in the continental United States. Trail Ridge Road takes you right up into the alpine tundra up to an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Perfect for enjoying views with napping babies or tired kiddos. You’ll spot all kinds of wildlife along the way, and it’s very neat to see how it changes along the way. Then head back down into the valley to spot some of the bigger animals! For more info, here’s a full guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids.
There you have it! Five absolutely incredible National Parks for families to visit. Have you visited any of these before? If so, which ones did you love? Or if not, which is your family’s favorite National Park? I’d love to hear in the comments below!