National Parks for the Win
An awesome adventure might be closer than you think. Take the kids and head outdoors to a national park near you.
National parks are some of our country's most cherished places, and you can find one or more in every state. Well, every state except Delaware.
The National Park Service oversees many wild places that are rife with adventure—not just majestic and massive places like Yellowstone or Yosemite or Glacier, but monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, lake shores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails.
So, with a total of 394 sites and 84 million acres to choose from, an outing to a national park property is well within your reach. (Delaware residents, you’ll just have to drive a bit outside state lines.)
So whether you take the kids for a day trip or camping for a week, exploring your national parks is well worth your time.
Author and dad Keith Bellows names his top 11 best parks for families in his book, 100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life. Check out his list to see if you can fit one of these adventures into a long weekend or vacation:
1. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK in Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
The world’s first national park, established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, is inspiring because of its epic size, wildness, and location.
2. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK in Utah
Get up close to—and even climb on—stunning sandstone arches. Kids have been known to say that this park is “better than a video game!”
3. PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK in Arizona
The fossils and forests here go back to pre-dinosaur days, so for kids, this is truly The Land Before Time.
4. GREAT SAND DUNES in Colorado
The attraction here is sand, sand, sand. With North America’s highest dunes—650 and 750 feet high—adventure is easy to find.
5. HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK in Hawaii
The magic word here is “lava.” Molten red dripping down the side of a volcano and sizzling into the ocean waves really brings the wow factor to a kid’s summer adventure.
6. DENALI NATIONAL PARK in Alaska
Hands-on, educational exhibits at the Visitor Center help kids take in the scope of North America’s tallest peak, 20,320 foot tall Mount McKinley.
7. GRAND CANYON in Arizona
Don’t just spend an hour peering over the edge. Be sure to take the kids below the rim on a day hike or ranger-led hike so they can examine all the little fossils, lizards, and wildflowers you can’t see from the top.
8. GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK & PRESERVE in Alaska
Just the fact that you can’t get there by land—you have to come by air or water—pumps up the adventure level from the very start.
9. MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK in Colorado
The 600 cliff dwellings high up in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon are essentially an ancient jungle gym. Take the kids and get ready to climb!
10. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS in Tennessee/North Carolina
There’s beauty, mystery, and greenery at every turn. Explore nature up close and personal at the salamander capital of the world.
11. SIERRA NEVADA PARKS in California
Everything is super-size in the land of giants, from the giant sequoias to 14,494-foot Mount Whitney. Hit the trails and meet the giants head-on!
As if the parks themselves weren’t cause enough for junior explorers to celebrate, the National Park Service also offers impressive programs to get more kids having fun at our national parks:
- Junior Rangers-in-training can work through park-produced activity books to earn their badges, and can get sworn in by a real Park Ranger. They can learn how scientists measure changes in volcanoes, find out how to track earthworms, or discover how the earth has changed since the last ice age.
- If you have a 4th grader in your family, you’re in luck! Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park initiative begun by President Obama in 2015, all fourth graders and their families can get a pass for one full year of free admission to all national parks, lands, and waters! Check out www.everykidinapark.gov to get your family’s free pass.
- The Passport to Your National Parks® is another fantastic park service idea, and a popular way to preserve memories of your visits. You can purchase a passport in any national park bookstore, and online as well. Every time you visit a national park, monument, historical site or other property, kids can get a stamp on their passport. The spiral bound travelogue also contains maps and a lot of great information about wild lands and historical places across the country.
We totally agree with President Theodore Roosevelt when he said, "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred."
Public lands are where some of America’s greatest adventures happen. And as a company of and for people who love the outdoors, we want to keep it that way. Check out 27 National Monuments that are currently at risk.