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9 Best US National Parks for Families


Young family enjoys a national park.
Hi, I'm Jetsetter!

This article was originally published on Jetsetter.com. Both Jetsetter and Viator are part of the Tripadvisor Media Group. Follow Viator on Instagram at @viatortravel, and Tripadvisor at @tripadvisor.

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Hi, I'm Jetsetter!

This article was originally published on Jetsetter.com. Both Jetsetter and Viator are part of the Tripadvisor Media Group. Follow Viator on Instagram at @viatortravel, and Tripadvisor at @tripadvisor.

see more

By Siobhan Reid, Jetsetter

Kid-friendly trails, ranger programs, and wildlife encounters are among the many reasons why national parks make for ideal family getaways. But with 59 national parks scattered across the nation, it’s tricky to know where to begin when you want to travel with little ones. (Or teens, for that matter.) Enter: our picks for the nine best national parks for families in the US.

Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring; Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
The colorful Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. | Photo Credit: Anders Riishede / Shutterstock

Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

Travelers from around the country (and the world) come to Yellowstone to take in the place that birthed America’s national park legacy. And while the park’s history may be over the little ones’ heads, the awe-inspiring landscape—think gushing waterfalls, hissing steam vents, and exploding mud pots—is sure to keep them captivated. Most families head for Old Faithful Geyser, which reliably erupts every 1.5-hours. Another great, kid-friendly activity is drive-by spotting of some of the park’s 400-plus animal species, including the world’s largest herd of bison. Base yourself at the historic log-and-stone Old Faithful Inn, where the lack of TVs and internet means you're in for some good old-fashioned family fun.

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Zion National Park

A family admires the view; Things to do in Zion National Park.
Zion National Park is a great family-friendly destination in the US. | Photo Credit: Brocreative / Shutterstock

Utah

Teenagers will go crazy for the incredible hikes in Zion National Park, especially Angels Landing, a trail that rises 1,500 feet (460 meters) above the Virgin River and features relentless switchbacks and a near-vertical summit. For younger travelers, The Narrows—a slot canyon hike through the Virgin River—proves to be just as thrilling. (Be sure to pack water shoes, though, as the rocks can get quite slippery.) There’s a great campsite right near the park's entrance if you're looking to rough it; if not, the Desert Pearl Inn is a gorgeous, family-friendly hotel with an outdoor pool, spacious accommodations with balconies, and 360-degree views of the surreal red and pink landscape.

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Redwood National Park

Redwoods; Things to do in Redwood National Park
Towering redwoods in Redwood National Park. | Photo Credit: Lucky-photographer / Shutterstock

California

Teach your youngins about the importance of conservation and sustainability at Northern California’s Redwood National Park. Redwoods dotted California’s northern coast as long as 20 million years ago but by the 1960s, the logging industry had decimated nearly 90 percent of the population. In a valiant effort to preserve the world’s tallest trees (at more than 300 feet or 91 meters), the Redwood National Park was created in 1968. The best way to comprehend the sheer scale of these giants is on foot. Some great, moderate hikes include the 4.2-mile (6.8-kilometer) James Irvine Trail, which brings visitors to Gold Bluffs Beach and Fern Canyon—as seen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park—as well as Miners Ridge Trail, which follows the course miners took during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800s.

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Yosemite National Park

A boy and his dad admire the view; Things to do in Yosemite National Park.
Where better to take the kids than Yosemite? | Photo Credit: My Good Images / Shutterstock

California

If your tots have boundless energy and a hankering for nonstop activity, take them to Yosemite. The park offers every outdoor activity imaginable, from hiking and rock-climbing to rafting and ziplining. Traveling with an aspiring Ansel Adams? Take them to the Glacier Point lookout, which rises more than 3,000 feet (915 meters) above the Yosemite Valley floor and offers picture-perfect views of Half Dome, Clouds Resort, Yosemite Falls, and other glacier-sculpted landmarks. If you’re unable to fit it all in in one day, stay overnight at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, a refined base camp with arts and crafts–style interiors, gas-burning fireplaces, and two outdoor heated pools.

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Everglades National Park

People cruise through the everglades; Things to do in the Everglades National Park.
Take it easy in the Everglades. | Photo Credit: View Apart / Shutterstock

Florida

For kids who love Planet Earth and all things animal-related, you can’t go wrong with the Everglades National Park, which is home to 350 species of birds; 40 species of mammals; and 50 species of reptiles, as well as 36 threatened or protected species, including manatees, American crocodiles, and Florida panthers. Crowds congest the trails and promenades in high season (January through April), for the chance to see roosting herons, wading flamingoes, and anhinga hatchlings in their nests. The better way to traverse these Floridian wetlands is by canoe or kayak, which can freely wind through mangroves and freshwater marsh at a slow, child-friendly pace. After exploring, kick back at the Balinese-style JW Marriott Marco Island, which has a kid's club, tons of water activities, and a full-service spa where mom and dad can steal away for a spot of pampering.

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Grand Canyon National Park

Horseshoe Bend; Things to do in the Grand Canyon National Park.
Horseshoe Bend is one of the highlights of the Grand Canyon. | Photo Credit: Wisanu Boonrawd / Shutterstock

Arizona

Dealing with hard-to-impress teens? Take them to the Grand Canyon and prepare to watch as they move from unenthused to at least mildly intrigued. The 18-mile-wide, 277-mile-long (29-kilometer-wide, 445-kilometer-wide) canyon mesmerizes even the surliest of travelers—speaking from experience here—while younger children will delight in the park's fossil impressions of sponges, brachiopods, and other marine creatures from more than 270 years ago. Afterwards, bunk down at Under Canvas, a clutch of luxury tents at the base of Bill Williams Mountain, right on the historic Route 66.

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Acadia National Park

Views from Acadia National Park, Maine; Things to do in Acadia National Park.
Visit Acadia for some of the best views on the east coast. | Photo Credit: Skyler Ewing / Shutterstock

Maine

The trip to Acadia National Park is worth it for the views from Cadillac Mountain alone. At more than 1,500 feet (460 meters), it’s the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, which your kids will readily brag about to their friends back home. Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer, bobcats, moose, peregrine falcons, and other wildlife as you explore the 120 miles (194 kilometers) of trails within the park. Or, enroll the fam in tide pool school, where a park ranger will point out crabs, starfish, and many other varieties of shellfish. At the end of the day, wind down at the West Street Hotel’s rooftop pool, which overlooks the outer islands and Acadia.

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Arches National Park

Arch formations in Utah; Things to do in Arches National Park.
Utah's Arches are otherworldly and well worth visiting. | Photo Credit: Checubus / Shutterstock

Utah

More than 1.4 million visitors head to Utah's Arches every year to lay eyes on one of the country’s most otherworldly—and visually arresting—natural phenomena: red sandstone formations shaped by water, wind, and time. A few of its most impressive include natural archways such as Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch, along with enormous freestanding walls (known as “fins”) of Entrada sandstone. There are ranger-led programs offered spring through fall, including guided walks and “Fiery Furnace” hikes through a labyrinth of towering sandstone walls. Your homebase is the Red Cliffs Lodge, a Wild West-style retreat with a horse corral, a film museum, and a wide roster of outdoor activities (including rafting, Jeep rides, and mountain bike trips).

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The peaks of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park makes a great family destination. | Photo Credit: jadimages / Shutterstock

North Carolina and Tennessee

There’s something for everyone at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, from miles upon miles of trails to diverse scenery—think: waterfalls, wildflowers, and spruce-fir forests—as well as opportunities to spot animals such as black bears, coyotes, and deer. Cover major ground by riding bikes through Cades Cove or by going on a guided horseback or horse-drawn carriage ride (Cades Coves Riding Stables offers both). After a long day on your feet, kick back at Courtyard by Marriott Gatlinburg, an unfussy hotel half a mile away from the park.

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