page contents

Best National Parks to Visit with Kids and Teens

This post contains affiliate links.

21 Best National Parks (USA) for Family Vacations

How many national parks have you and your kids visited in your lifetime? National Parks in America make for some of the best memories when it comes to your family vacations with kids and teens. With so many outdoor adventure choices — hiking, biking, climbing, canyoneering, watching wildlife, swimming, kayaking, fishing and more — these diverse protected lands all over the United States are your tickets to adventurous family travel.

You can choose to camp, glamp, stay in a lodge within the national park, or crash at a nearby hotel or resort that promises jaw-dropping views and unforgettable stays. A national park road trip should be your next epic budget-friendly family vacation!

hiking-mist-trail-yosemite-national-park-with-kids

What are the best national parks to visit in the USA with kids?

So far, our family of six has visited fifteen American national parks, with plans to visit three more this summer. Since we live in Colorado, we tend to favor national parks in the west, particularly in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and California. But we know there’s many more national park adventures to be seen! The East Coast is also home to some of the best national parks in the USA.

I invited some of my fellow family travel bloggers to share their favorite national parks with kids and teens, intermixed with our Rad Family Travel favorites in America’s West so far. I’ve listed them alphabetically so as not play favorites. Which park is at the top of your bucket list?

Acadia National Park (photo: Walking the Parks)

Acadia National Park (photo: Walking the Parks)

Acadia National Park

Maine

Why go? Acadia National Park is revered for its biodiversity. That means it is beautiful in so many different ways! Glaciers created granite mountains, streams and ponds. Nestled against the Atlantic Ocean you will find gorgeous beaches and intriguing tidal ponds.

What to do? Acadia National Park’s most unique feature is the 40 miles of carriage roads. Originally designed to provide a place for horseback riding away from the emerging automobiles, they now are also home to many hikers and cyclists. Exploring the over 150 miles of hiking trails can lead you to hidden beaches, peaks with beautiful ocean views and wonderful sleepy ponds. 

Early birds can be the first to see the sunrise in the US from the peak of Cadillac Mountain, the furthest eastern spot in the states. Looking for water adventure? Private companies offer ocean Kayak Tours around Mount Desert Island. Or if you want something a little milder, rent a kayak at Jordan Pond followed by an afternoon treat at the nearby tea house. 

Where to stay? Acadia National Park is home to 600 campsites that range from rustic to RV delight. And there are another dozen private campgrounds in the area. Not a camper? Then Bar Harbor is the place to go. What we love about this area is the large number of cute Bed and Breakfast options. And even better than the many chain hotels, you will find adorable quaint motels along the highway.

Learn more from Walking The Parks: Discover 6 Things to Do In Acadia National Park for the First Time Visitor.

arches-national-park-with-kids

Arches National Park

Utah

Why go? Arches National Park boasts the biggest amount of diverse natural arches and ever changing landscape. This place is every photographer’s dream come true with stunning backdrops and gorgeous lighting. Nearby town of Moab is a funky, fun town that will help you get on your way to all kinds of outdoor adventures. Nearby Canyonlands National Park is just a 30 minutes trek and Dead Horse Point State Park is 40 minutes away.

What to do? Hiking, biking, rock climbing, canyoneering and rafting on the Colorado River are just a few of your options. Don’t miss hikes to Landscape Arch, the Fiery Furnace, the Windows, Balanced Rock and more in the park. Rent an open-air Hummer for a tour of the backcountry.

Where to stay? Moab is your best base for seeing and exploring Arches National Park. We loved Moab’s vibe, where you can walk the strip, find fun places to eat and launch out on your next adventure. Our family of six stayed in the Best Western Plus Canyonlands and loved their beautiful outdoor pool and year-round hot tub, plus a convenient laundry room.

See more from our time in Arches National Park here.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison by Traveling in Heels.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison by Traveling in Heels.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Colorado

Why go? Locals call the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park their “mini Grand Canyon,” with good reasons why. It’s taller than the Empire State Building and the great Pyramids of Egypt at 2,700 feet deep and 48 miles long. This national park also offers some of the most dramatic views with some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rocks, and craggiest peaks in North America. Then there’s the amazing Gunnison River stretching and winding through the rock. Seriously…the views will take your breath away.

What to do? Adrenalin junkies should add rock climbing in this national park to their bucket list with nearly 150 known Black Canyon climbs. Since it is extremely deep and narrow this is an adventure meant only for expert climbers. The most popular climbs are Warner Point plunging 2,722 feet, and the Painted Wall, at 2,250 feet, the tallest vertical wall in Colorado. Peak climbing season is mid-April to mid-June and late August to early November.

Where to stay? Nearby Montrose offers a variety of accommodations from hotels to vacation rentals.

Learn more about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from Traveling in Heels.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (photo: Traveling Mel)

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (photo: Traveling Mel)

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Montana

Why go? While not technically a national park, Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) is managed by the National Park Service. Bighorn Canyon is a spectacular canyon that straddles the border of Montana and Wyoming. At 71 miles long, Bighorn Lake, the centerpiece, was created by the damming of the Bighorn River. About a third of Bighorn Canyon NRA is on the Crow Reservation and a quarter of the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range is within Bighorn Canyon NRA. 

What to do? There are so many recreation opportunities here. From mountain biking to hiking, plus boating, fishing and hunting. We like to look for wild mustangs, bighorn sheep, and to explore tipi rings left by the ancestors of the Crow people. From the Devil Canyon Overlook, you get a premier view 1,000 feet into the Canyon.

For hiking, I recommend the 3-mile Hillsboro Trail, which leads to a ghost town. Barry’s Island Trail is just four miles round trip and winds around Chain Canyon, a secret escape route for cattle rustlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Another popular way to explore the canyon is via canoe, kayak, or other boat. Put in at one of the two marinas and paddle right up to the striped red and ochre canyon walls. 

Where to stay? There are five campgrounds in Bighorn NRA and they are all first-come, first-served. There is also dispersed backcountry camping allowed below the high water mark. The closest town in Lovell, Wyoming, which has a few motels. 

Learn more: Check out Pryor Mountain Wild Horses in Montana and viewing Bighorn Canyon National Monument and follow @TravelingMelMT on Instagram for more to do in Wyoming in Montana.

Photo by  Casey Schackow  on  Unsplash

Bryce National Park

Utah

Why go? This hoodoo haven full of spindles reaching heavenward never gets old. Expansive views, fresh air, famous sunrises and sunsets, and even snowy hikes makes Bryce National Park fun no matter the season.

What to do? Stop by the Visitor’s Center before you enter the park. Then make time for wandering through the architectural wonder of Bryce Canyon Lodge - only local resources were used to build this historic place. The lodge restaurant is definitely worth a celebratory splurge.

Hike the rim from Sunrise to Sunset Points, and make time for a hike down to the Queen’s Garden. This park hosts a slew of trails for easy-going folks and hard-core hikers alike. Horseback riding is a fantastic way to see more of the park in less time. Make sure you bring your camera for shots between the hoodoos.

Where to stay? Camping in Bryce Canyon is limited to the North Campground and Sunset Campground, so plan ahead if this is your thing. We stayed in one of classy, rustic cabins just steps away from Bryce Canyon Lodge. Best Western Ruby’s Inn is a popular spot outside the park.

See how we spent 24 hours in Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos.

capitol-reef-petroglyphs

Capitol Reef National Park

Utah

Why go? While nearby Bryce and Arches are more crowded, Capitol Reef National Park is an introvert’s paradise. Various geologic formations, starry nights, petroglyphic cliff walls, pioneer-raised fruit orchards, and an old homestead make this a fun park for all ages to explore.

What to do? Don’t miss the ancient pictographs and petraglyphs (700-1300 AD) left by the Fremont people. Spend time in Fruita — see the schoolhouse, Gifford Farmhouse, and more in this historic pioneer small town where Mormons settled in the 1800s. Take a scenic drive to see more of the park’s Waterfold Pocket, that runs about 100 miles northwest to the southeast of Capitol Reef. Feeling really adventurous or have a 4x4? Head towards Grand Wash Road into the canyon for more colorful sandstone cliffs and views.

Where to stay? Next time, we’d check into the Lodge at Red River Ranch in nearby Teasdale. We camped in the primitive Fruita Campground near the orchards and the Fremont River. Unfortunately, the gnats were hatching off the river, and a simple hotel nearby quickly sounded luxurious. Good news is this only happens for about 2 weeks in June.

channel-islands-national-park

Channel Islands National Park

California

Why go? This lesser known hidden gem of a national park is just off the coast of southern California and is home to 145 species of flora and fauna found only on these islands. Hop on a ferry from the harbor in Ventura towards this unspoiled national park that is the Galapagos of America. Throw in underwater sea adventures through kelp forests, and spying dolphin mega pods and whales on the way there, and you’ve got one heckuva adventure.

What to do? We’d never heard of this timeless national park until we got busy planning our family’s two-week California Road Trip. The only way to get to the islands of Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa — all part of Channel Islands National Park — is via ferry. The ferry ride is a treat in itself as you’re sure to see dolphins and hopefully, whales. If you’re into scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, or hiking, this park is the perfect treat.

Cavern Point on Santa Cruz Island - CINP

We chose to visit Santa Cruz Island, where once you are dropped off at Scorpion Ranch, you can kayak around the perimeter towards some of the deepest sea caves or explore by foot. Hike up to Cavern Point for a picnic and an amazing view — meet the Island Fox along the way. This island used to be inhabited, so be sure to learn Santa Cruz’s unique human history.

Where to stay? If you’re looking for more than a day trip to Channel Islands, camping is the way to go. Campers love to lay their heads at the primitive campgrounds, especially on Santa Rosa. We opted for staying in the recently renovated mid-century style Best Western Plus Inn of Ventura and loved the proximity to the Patagonia flagship store, downtown, and the coastline.

Explore the Channel Islands with kids for a one-of-a-kind bucket list adventure. Learn how we did it here.

Dry Tortugas National Park (photo: The Round The World Guys)

Dry Tortugas National Park (photo: The Round The World Guys)

Dry Tortugas National Park

Florida

Why go? What's not to like about the Dry Tortugas National Park? First of all, it is one of the most remote National Parks in the US, and there are only a few ways to get there. Located around 80 miles southwest of Key West, Florida, you can either take the Yankee Freedom Ferry or charter a seaplane to Dry Tortugas.

What to do? Because of its remote location, you can expect to find a pristine landscape that offers the whole family an adventure. Join the guided tour of Fort Jefferson, or simply enjoy the white-sand beach with crystal-clear, blue water. Kids will enjoy swimming and snorkeling in Dry Tortugas, and you can also arrange a kayaking tour if you bring your own kayaks on the ferry.

Where to stay? The majority of visitors, especially families with kids, do only a day-trip to Dry Tortugas. There are plenty options for accommodations in Key West, the logical place to stay for your journey in this area. 

If you're a family that loves to rough it, you can camp in the Dry Tortugas. Keep in mind that there is limited space and it's first-come, first-served. It's also very primitive and you are completely on your own. No electricity, no toilets, no place to purchase water - nothing. But if this is for you, check out their official web page here for more information.

Learn more from The Round the World Guys: How To Get To Dry Tortugas National Park and What To Do There.

Everglades National Park (photo: Family Travel Lifestyle)

Everglades National Park (photo: Family Travel Lifestyle)

Everglades National Park

Florida

Why go? The Everglades are a vast expanse of wetlands, and home to some of America’s most exotic wildlife. In this park you can get up close and personal with the animals – there are few barriers, and you will absolutely come across alligators lounging on the side of your path or a Great Blue Heron who wants to stroll along with you.

Hang out for a bit at the Flamingo Marina and you might see a manatee come into the harbor in search of fresh water to drink. The Everglades’ unique ecosystem is unparalleled; it is the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles live in close proximity!

What to do? Everglades National Park is a place for adventure. You can hike the numerous trails, ride bikes, rent kayaks or take an airboat tour out into the River of Grass. For the very intrepid traveler, there are guided kayak/camping tours that take you deep into the Everglades for an overnight or even a week. If you have kids, they will love the Junior Ranger Program or being able to hold a baby alligator on an airboat tour.

Where to Stay? There are campgrounds within the park that accommodate tents and RVs. There are also backcountry campgrounds accessible only by boat or by foot. There are hotels close to the Ernest F. Coe entrance (the main entrance) in nearby Homestead or Florida City, but the park is also only about an hour away from Miami.

Learn more about Everglades National Park from Family Travel Lifestyle.

glacier-national-park-with-kids

Glacier National Park

Montana

Why go? The Rockies along the Continental Divide cut through Glacier National Park meaning glaciers, rivers, lakes, and streams seem to pop up at every turn. All kinds of hikers can find just the type of trail they’re looking for - from an easy-going walk to a challenging all-day climb. Have passports? Head north where the U.S. meets Canada, and Glacier gives way to Waterton Lakes National Park.

What to do? The number one must-do in Glacier is driving the Going-to-the-Son Road. From the east side of Glacier National Park, start from the Visitor Center at St. Mary, then head west along the Going-to-the-Son Road. But before you hop in the car, consider a boat tour on St. Mary Lake; make reservations ahead of time. Or, hike the Sun Point Nature Trail.

Continue on towards the Jackson Glacier Overlook and over Logan Pass - stop for a short hike for jaw-dropping views via the Hidden Lake Overlook trail. Then make your way towards the Garden Wall, Bird Woman Falls, Trail of the Cedars, Lake McDonald, and Sprague Creek near the West Glacier. Be sure to stop off in Apgar by Lake McDonald for some ice cream and a little history at the Apgar Discovery Cabin.

Whitewater rafting, biking, boating, horseback riding and fishing are popular activities in Glacier too.

Where to stay? Camp in Apgar, Avalanche Creek, Kintla Lake, Many Glacier, St. Mary campgrounds in Glacier National Park if you love being in nature all day and night. Or opt for the rustic, grand historic Lake McDonald Lodge. The Glacier Outdoor Center Cabins near the West Glacier entrance are perfect for families too.

Fodor’s Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West offers many more great suggestions like the ones above.

grand-canyon-national-park

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona

Why go? We’ve enjoyed the Grand Canyon from the top (South Rim) and the bottom (Havasupai Falls*), both equally grand experiences. The Colorado River slices through this huge national park, making it a place for all kinds of outdoor adventurers in every season.

*The Havasupai Indian Reservation is not in the national park, but still part of the Grand Canyon. You need to a permit and a plan to explore these mind-blowing waterfalls.

What to do? Take a helicopter ride through the canyon, whitewater raft down the Colorado River, hike from rim-to-rim to snap numerous views, bike, fish, camp, snowshoe, cross-country ski and more. Take the Hermits Rest Route shuttle from March through November, and stop off when you please and hike the rim as much or as little as you like, or just hop back on the next bus to get to the next point. The Village Route shuttle bus runs all year long.

While summer and spring break are the busiest times, this national park is fun in winter and fall too. If you’re not into crowds, skip the South Rim and head for the North Rim instead.

Where to stay? Mather Campground is where we laid our heads when we explored the South Rim. Just passing through for a day trip at the South Rim? Then get your kicks on Route 66 and stay in Williams, Arizona for fun. We loved the newly renovated, clean and lovely Rodeway Inn & Suites Downtowner - Rte 66.

Learn more:

Grand Teton National Park (photo: DQ Travel)

Grand Teton National Park (photo: DQ Travel)

Grand Teton National Park

Wyoming

Why go? Grand Teton is a great national park to visit with your family. Although it is a fairly small national park, its beauty is quite large. It is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, and quite close to Yellowstone National Park. 

What to do? Not only does Grand Teton National Park provide several campgrounds, scenic views, and hiking trails, but it also has miles of paved biking trails as well. With kids, be sure to visit one of the popular lakes, Jackson Lake, String Lake, or Jenny Lake. All three lakes have gentle walking trails that lead you through the forest and around the lake shores to see the Grand Teton mountain range. Many families enjoy these lakes for swimming, paddle boarding, and kayaking.

Like to fish? Grand Teton National Park has many rivers and streams as well. Plus, white water rafting on the Snake River is great with older kids and teens. Moose sightings are pretty common in the Grand Teton Range, and driving through the park allows for plenty of wildlife viewing.

Where to stay? If you’re not into camping, both kids and adults will love the town of Jackson just 10 minutes away the park. Jackson is an upscale western town with a picturesque downtown, plenty of local shops, and delicious restaurants. 

Check out the Cowboy Village Lodge for moderate accommodations, or for a splurge, consider the Hotel Jackson or the Wort Hotel — boutique hotels in downtown Jackson with plenty of amenities. 

Learn more here from DQ Travel: Grand Teton National Park Family Vacation Guide

Photo by  Holly Mandarich  on  Unsplash

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Colorado

Why go? This park is a kid’s paradise, where beach play and grasslands meet mountain vistas. Sand-sledding, aspen groves in Fall, roaming buffalo, diverse terrain, and hikes make Great Sand Dunes National Park a natural wonder in southwest Colorado.

What to do? Show up early in the day to hike to High Dune, then plan on a short afternoon hike to Zapata Falls. Stop at the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the different hikes in the park. Consider a four-wheel-drive tour to spy buffalo in between hikes. Late May or early June is typically the best time to play in Medano Creek, when snow-melt from the mountains makes for watery fun in the creek. Note that playing on the dunes in the summer is best early or late in the day so you don’t burn your feet on the sand!

Where to stay? The Pinon Flats Campground is the only camground within Great Sand Dunes. While it’s open all year long, it fills quickly. Zapata Ranch sounds like a fancy splurge with kids. The Conejos Canyon River Ranch is an hour from the park, it boasts a beautiful riverfront and fun things to do for kids and adults.

Check out Unplugged Family Adventures in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Cataloochee Valley Great Smoky Mountains - photo: Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide

Cataloochee Valley Great Smoky Mountains - photo: Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tennessee and North Carolina

Why go? Located between Knoxville and Asheville puts the ever popular Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) within a half day of driving from major cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh. This park boasts an incredible array of wildlife, stunning mountain scenery dotted with rivers and waterfalls, and rich Appalachian cultural traditions.

What to do? About 95% of the park's 522,419 acres are lush green forests teeming with 10,000 plant and animal species, including black bears, deer, birds, and more. The famous Cataloochee Valley elk herd was reintroduced here back in 2001. Watching wildlife is our favorite thing to do here.

GSMNP is home to 16 mountains with summits of 6,000+ feet and nearly 900 miles of hiking trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail), so hiking, fishing, and camping are the park's other popular activities. It's also the starting point for road trips along the world-renowned Blue Ridge Parkway, and boasts spectacular views of spots like Cade’s Cove, Clingman's Dome, and Newfound Gap Road.

Where to sleep? Though there are plenty of nice hotels and cabins just outside the park in Asheville, Cherokee, and Gatlinburg. While there are plenty of campgrounds inside GSMNP, the only park lodge is the LeConte Lodge, which is only accessible on foot via a 5 to 8-mile hike. The LeConte is usually open from mid-March through mid-November. 

The Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide offers complete guides to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and other attractions in the area.

Photo by  Alan Carrillo  on  Unsplash

Joshua Tree National Park

California

Why go? Star-studded nights and elephant size boulders perfect for playing cops and robbers throughout this park. Joshua Tree National Park is most spectacular (and less hot!) in spring-time when the desert is blooming. Check the calendar and plan your visit around a new moon so you can enjoy a free night of star-gazing at Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center.

What to do? Besides ogling the Milky Way by night, take a scenic drive by day through Joshua Tree. Make sure your gas tank and water bottles are full before you leave the Oasis Visitor’s Center. Enjoy stops for short hikes along the Skull Rock Nature Trail and the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. Ask the Rangers which hikes would be good on the day you visit.

Rock-climbing, hiking, camping and biking is most fun in Joshua when it’s not too hot, so definitely aim for a spring or fall visit if planning for outdoor adventure.

Where to stay? Base yourself in Palm Springs or Twentynine Palms.

Here’s our Day Trip through Joshua Tree.

rocky-mountain-yurt

Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado

Why go? Rocky Mountain National Park will have you climbing tall mountains to your heart’s continent, crossing over the Continental Divide, smelling pine trees, soaking in sunshine, paddleboarding on lakes, crossing streams, and looking for elk, moose, bighorn sheep and more.

What to do? Don’t miss Bear Lake, the centerpiece for many Rocky Mountain adventures. Drive Trail Ridge Road, the highest (over 12,000 feet) ongoing highway in the U.S. and stop for alpine pictures along the way. Consider visiting the Wild Basin Area if you prefer less people, while Grand Lake is also a great jumping off place for outdoor adventure and ice cream.

Where to stay? Inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Timber Creek Campground right by the historic Holzworth Lodge on the western side of the park is supposedly a fun, quieter spot for families.

Our number one pick for staying outside the park is YMCA of the Rockies - Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, just southwest of the park. Options include cabins, yurts, camp sites, large reunion lodges, plus loads of outdoor activity on site.

Learn more: Stay in a Yurt at Snow Mountain Ranch in the Rockies.

christoph-von-gellhorn-748872-unsplash

Saguaro National Park

Arizona

Why go? Remember the giant iconic cactus towering into the sky from the Western movies? They are called Saguaro and the only place in the world you can find them are in the Sonoran Desert. Saguaro National Park resides in Tucson, Arizona, and consists of 2 districts: Rincon Mountain District to the east and Tucson Mountain District to the west of the city.

What to do? We recommend visiting the Rincon Mountain District since it’s scenic drive is paved. Once you get there, stop at the Visitor Center, watch the movie about the park, and grab the Junior Ranger program for the kids. Then, drive the 8-mile Cactus Forest Drive loop. Walk through the cacti. Tell your kids to spot the grandest and the tallest cactus and see how small they are compared to it! Also, look for ‘hotels’ in saguaro cactus — holes in the cactus that are homes for different birds.  

Where to stay? At that time we stayed in Hilton, the closest to the park.  El Conquistador Tucson offers amazing views of the Catalina Mountains and the desert, plus 3 world-class golf courses, a spa and great outdoor pools.

Learn more about this park from Two Worlds Treasures: Visit Saguaro National Park In June. Follow their adventure on Instagram

sequoia-kings-canyon-national-parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

California

Why go? Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks go hand in hand sitting one on top of the other. Walk among giants — some of the oldest trees in the world — sequoias to be exact. Grab a glimpse of Mt. Whitney or explore marble hallways underground in Crystal Cave. The drive between Sequoia and Kings Canyon is a site by itself, and meeting General Sherman is like icing on the cake.

What to do? We gave Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks one long day and we were sad to leave. You should plan at least two days to immerse yourself more fully into these two parts. If you only have one day for Sequoia, hop on Generals Highway and make General Sherman your number one priority, making time for Congress Trail. Then, on Day 2, head to Grant Grove Village, meet General Grant Tree and other trees in General Grant Grove. Don’t miss Panoramic Point in the park and take Kings Canyon Scenic Byway on the way out.

Where to stay? Atwell Mill Campground in Sequoia or Sentinel Campground in Kings Canyon would be our picks. Or stay in nearby Three Rivers at the Buckeye Tree Lodge.

yellowstone-national-park

Yellowstone National Park

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Why go? Geysers, geothermal waters for swimming, Old Faithful, colorful springs, funny little mud pots, hiking, fishing, and more. There’s something for every age to enjoy and explore in Yellowstone National Park.

What to do? Huge and diverse, it’s a challenge to try to see everything, even if you spend one week in Yellowstone like we did. Plan ahead by inviting each person in your family or party to pick the one thing they must see or do in Yellowstone. and prioritize from there. We hit the highlights and you should too: Norris Geyser Basin, soaking in geothermal waters at Firehole Falls, Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, wildlife sightings in Hayden Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, Roosevelt Arch, and horseback riding under the Big Sky.

Where to stay? Your lodging or campsite will in part determine what you are able to see in Yellowstone. We relaxed in this wonderful vacation home in West Yellowstone, Montana for seven nights. While we were able to see a lot of the park, we did not make the long trek to Lamar Valley because it would have meant six or more hours in the car just for one day.

If it’s your first time in Yellowstone and you’re camping, aim for pitching your tent in Canyon Village so you can be centrally located between all of the highlights of Yellowstone.

Learn more: 7 wonderstruck days in Yellowstone with kids

yellowstone-national-park

Yosemite National Park

California

Why go? Crushing waterfalls, cliffs for serious climbers, giant sequoias, high country hiking — you can see why Yosemite National Park is internationally famed among all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Yosemite Valley, known for its many waterfalls and towering cliffs, and Wawona and Mariposa Grove in the south, are open year-round. Tuolomne Meadows on the western side of the park is best for summer hiking and camping, while Hetch Hetchy is loved by backcountry enthusiasts.

What to do? To avoid surging weekend and even daytime crowds, visit Yosemite during the week and plan to stay 3-5 nights. In the summer, bring your bikes (or rent them) as the Valley floor is mostly flat, you can save your energy for hiking to waterfalls, and then you won’t have to wait in lines for the free shuttle.

Over five days we were able to see Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, hike the Mist Trail, picnic at Mirror Lake, splurge on breakfast buffet at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and more. There are so many things to do with kids and teens in Yosemite.

Where to stay? We lucked with first-come first-serve camping spots in the historic Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley. Staying five nights allowed us to really immerse ourselves in Yosemite. Splurge by staying at the Majestic or consider the more reasonable Yosemite Lodge.

Learn more: One of our favorites of Yosemite National Park was hiking the Mist Trail to see Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.

zion-national-park

Zion National Park

Utah

Why go? Pink, orange and red rock formations in the timeless Kolob Canyons and Zion Canyon makes this quiet, yet popular park the perfect place for loads of outdoor adventures. The Virgin River enters through the Narrows, a spectacular place for hiking, wading, and photography. The picturesque small town of Springdale is a super fun, eclectic base with plenty of excellent mom-and-pop places to eat and shop.

What to do? We’ve been to Zion twice so far, and hiking the Narrows and canyoneering in the adjacent Kolob Terraces are our top favorite family experiences. Hiking the Canyon Overlook Trail is a real treat when arriving via the East Entrance, especially at sunset (see above). Don’t miss the Court of the Patriarchs, wading in the Virgin River, biking the Pa’rus Trail, Emerald Pools Trail, and the Riverside Walk.

The free shuttle through the park in the summer makes most of the park auto-free in summer. Consider visiting in fall when the temperatures are more comfortable and the crowds have waned; winter can also be wonderful.

Where to stay? The first time we visited in June and we stayed in the super nice Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale / Zion National Park, complete with an outdoor pool, laundry room, great views, and free breakast.

Our second visit to Zion was over spring break, and we were pleasantly surprised by the La Quinta Inn. Their pool was even better and the views just as good.

Learn more: Why you should plan a day of canyoneering in the Kolob Terraces.

Conclusion

America’s national parks make for some of the best family vacations and unforgettable road trips. The 21 parks listed above are some of the best, but we’ll admit we are a bit biased. Thanks to all of our guest contributors who covered some of the parks we haven’t hit yet. Glacier and Tetons are high on our list!

Which national parks have you visited and which one is your favorite so far? Which ones are still on your bucket list? Please comment or ask questions below, we’d love to hear from you!

PIN IT! and save for later reading: