THE TOP 10 BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR KIDS

mother and kid walking through huge tree grove national parl

Post Summary: A complete list of the best national parks for kids in the US, including what to do and where to stay.

When trying to decide where to travel with your kids, top on your list needs to be exploring the incredible national parks of the US. A gold mine of fun, nature-based activities make national parks the perfect choice for family travel. In our opinion, every national park in the US can earn the accolade of being one of the “best national parks for kids” but there are a few that particularly stand out. What makes a kid-friendly national park? For us, it’s the breadth of nature they offer, the unique activities inside and outside of the park, and the ease of getting to them.

Extreme weather and worries about safety at a national park are something you’ll have to work with at almost every park you visit. It is the great outdoors, so it’s an excellent opportunity to teach your kids about respect for nature and practicing outdoor safety. We’ve included a short guide at the end for preparing for a national park trip and resources to help your kids, and you, understand national park safety.

For now, here’s our complete list, in no particular order, of the best kid-friendly national parks in the U.S.

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Best National Parks For Kids

1. Yellowstone National Park

Location:
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Why visit with kids?
Incredible wildlife sightings, exploding geysers
High on our list of best national parks to visit with kids is the first national park ever created, Yellowstone National Park. Kids will love this park for the sheer abundance of wildlife sightings. You’re practically guaranteed to see bison roaming (maybe even in your campsite) and might get lucky enough to spot elk, bighorn sheep, moose, bears, and wolves. Also…exploding geysers! Kids of all ages will enjoy watching Old Faithful explode and since it reliably goes off every 75 minutes, it’s not something you have to take a gamble on with your kids in tow.

Other family-friendly highlights of the park are swimming in Mammoth Hot Springs (yes, it is safe to swim there!) and taking in the technicolor display of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. Kids can marvel at the otherwordly and vibrant green, orange, and yellow shades of this natural landmark. The park also offers fun Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs for kids 4 and up. You can learn more about the programs here.

When your kids need a break from nature, the nearby town of Jackson has plenty of family-friendly restaurants and activities for the kids to enjoy.

Unlike a lot of other national parks, hiking is not the main draw of Yellowstone so it’s also one of the best national parks for toddlers.

Tip: You can add on nearby Grand Teton National Park to your itinerary to get in two amazing and quite different national parks.

How To Get There:
The closest airports are Jackson Hole Airport located in Jackson, WY and Yellowstone Regional Airport located in Cody, WY. Some people opt to fly into Salt Lake City International airport because it’s cheaper to fly in and rent a car from there.

Where To Stay:
While it’s possible to stay outside of the park, Yellowstone is HUGE and you will be driving a lot if you stay in the nearby towns of Jackson or Gardiner. It’s best to situate yourself in two different places to cut down on driving time. The most central location within the park is Canyon Lodge and Cabins. Camping is plentiful in Yellowstone and while most sites are first-come, first-served the following campsites allow reservations: Bridge Bay, Canyon, Grant Village, Madison, and Fishing Bridge RV Park.

2. Everglades National Park

Location:
Florida

Why Visit With Kids?
Alligators, crocodiles, and airboat tours…need we say more?
Everglades National Park is one of the top national parks for kids because of the amazing wildlife sightings and adventurous water-based activities they’re sure to love. At 1.5 million acres, the Everglades is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 and a great choice when looking for a year-round destination. While many may shrug off the everglades as a “big ol swamp,” it’s actually an incredibly biodiverse ecosystem that is best described as a tropical wilderness.

Kids will love taking the thrilling airboat tour that zips you through the marshlands where the guide will point out wildlife like manatees, birds, and of course the most famous inhabitant…alligators. Afterward, you can rent a kayak and take to the Flamingo Canoe Trails to paddle through dense mangroves and narrow waterways, looking out for dolphins and otters along the way. Other fun kid-approved activities are biking the kid-friendly (in other words, it’s flat) 15-mile Everglades bike trail or taking one of the many short leisurely walks that are peppered throughout the park. Many of the walks are stroller friendly and are a great option if traveling with a baby or toddler.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
The two closest airports to Everglades National Park is Miami International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

Where To Stay: While there is camping within the park, most people choose to stay in nearby Homestead at a hotel like the Courtyard Marriott. You can also choose to stay in Miami (a one hour drive to the park) if you want more options for fun things to do outside of the park. Staying in Miami will also give you proximity to the other national parks in Florida, Biscayne National Park, and Dry Tortugas National Park. You can also look for family-friendly Airbnbs in Miami HERE.

3. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Location:
Colorado

Why Visit With Kids?
Sandboarding and sand sledding for days.
Home to the tallest sand dunes in America, Grand Sand Dunes National Park is one of the best US national parks for kids who love adventure. Bring your own gear or rent some sand boards and let your kids run loose as they happily spend hours sliding down the sand dunes. The park has smaller sand dunes for younger or more cautious kids and higher sand dunes for the thrill-seeking older kids. You’ll want to sled in the early hours or late afternoon to avoid the midday harsh heat of the sand. When you’re not sledding, Medano Creek is where all the action is for water-loving kids. What appears to be a shallow creek is actually a complex water system that extends a mile below the surface. The creek is home to a rare natural phenomenon called “surge flow” where a steep gradient produces waves in the creek. If it’s been a particularly snowy winter, you can play in waves that go up to a foot high! Is there anything more magical than feeling like you’re at the beach while looking at the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance? Late May to early June are the best months to experience this unique activity. Your kids will love playing in the water, building sandcastles, and kayaking in Medano Creek.

When you’re not sledding or playing in the creek, you can opt to do hikes, take a four-wheel drive tour, spot buffalo, try out fat tire biking, or enjoy stargazing at night with zero light pollution.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
The closest airport is Alamosa Airport in Alamosa and is located about 35 minutes from the park. Since it’s a smaller airport, you might find cheaper fares from Colorado Springs Airport (2 hours and 45 minutes from the park) or Denver International Airport (3 hours and 45 minutes away from the park).

Where To Stay:
There is nowhere to stay within the park, but you can camp at Pinon Flats Campground. Click HERE to learn more about it and make reservations. If you’re wanting more upscale accommodations, Zapata Ranch is a working dude ranch that’s sure to be fun for the kids. Lastly, you can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Alamosa, Colorado here.

4. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Location:
California

Why Visit With Kids?

A magical forest land of giant trees.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is one of the best national parks for young kids. Home to the oldest and biggest trees in the world, any nature-loving kid is going to be mesmerized by these awe-inspiring majestic trees. No visit is complete without visiting General Sherman, the largest tree on earth. After seeing this impressive tree, you can take the two-mile Congress Trail loop to take in more of the oldest and biggest trees in the park. There are ample opportunities to take fun photo ops next to fallen trees or trees that have been cut out, so if you have a budding photographer, this is the perfect place for them to hone their skills. Your kids will also enjoy The Giant Forest Museum where they can learn about the trees and take part in the interactive exhibits.

When visiting Sequoia National Park, you can also stop by the neighboring national park Kings Canyon National Park. The park isn’t as visited, which can make it a welcome respite if you’re looking to get away from the crowds. Kids will enjoy exploring more of the world’s oldest trees in Grant Grove and enjoying the idyllic peace of Zumwalt Meadow, where you can skip rocks and wade in the water.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
 The closest airports to the parks are Fresno Yosemite International Airport (1 hour and 25 minutes away) and Visalia Municipal Airport (1 hour and 15 minutes away). If you can’t find any affordable flights, you can also fly into Los Angeles Airport (LAX) located three and a half hours away.

Where To Stay:
There is ample camping within both parks and most are first-come, first-served. You can check HERE to see which campsites can be reserved ahead of time. A popular lodge within the park is the rustic but elegant Wuksachi Lodge. Lastly, you can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Three Rivers, CA here.

5. Arches National Park

Location:
Utah

Why Visit With Kids?
An otherwordly landscape of red rocks and arches.
Arches National Park is sure to delight kids with a remarkable landscape that begs to be climbed and explored. With over 2000 sandstone natural arches, hundreds of pinnacles, balancing rocks, and massive fins there’s enough to keep your natural-born explorer happy. There’s no doubt that Arches National park is one of the best national parks for families.

Top on the list for toddlers and young kids is Sand Dune Arch Hike. A short hike (.3 miles) will take you to nature’s most amazing natural sandbox. Bring some toys or have them create their own out of rocks and sticks and let them play while you take a rest or explore nearby. The great thing about Arches National Park is there are a lot of options for short hikes that provide a great pay off. When the kids get tired of playing on rocks and living out their own Indiana Jones fantasy, you can hop into your air-conditioned car and drive the 18-mile scenic drive.

How To Get There:
The closest airports to the park are Canyonland Fields (15 minutes away from the park) and Grand Junction Regional Airport (1 hour and 3o minutes away from the park). A lot of people choose to fly into Salt Lake City Airport (3 hours and 40 minutes away) to make a long road trip through all 5 of the national parks in Utah.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

Where To Stay:
Devils Garden Campground is the only campground in Arches and can be reserved for certain parts of the year. Learn more about the campground and reserve a site HERE. There is no lodging within the park, so most people situate themselves outside of the park in the nearby town of Moab. The SpringHill Suites from Marriott are a great choice for families with its fun outdoor pool and free breakfast. You can see current rates for the hotel HERE. Lastly, you can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Moab, Utah here.

6. Zion National Park

Location:
Utah
Why Visit With Kids?

A red sandstone dessert that’s LUSH.
Unlike the four other amazing national parks in Utah, Zion National Park is a desert with a lush green landscape. While every national park in Utah is great for kids, we love that Zion offers fun water activities and that the nearby town of Springdale offers alternatives for when you want to do something else. Also, Bryce Canyon National park is nearby so you can easily add it to your Zion Itinerary.

Kid-friendly hikes abound in the park with the popular ones being the Emerald Pools Trail, The Gateway Trail, and the Canyon Overlook Trail. The Narrows, an extraordinary slot canyon hike, is an incredible bucket list hike that is best for older kids, but if you’re traveling with toddlers and young kids you can still walk a portion of the trail starting at the Riverside Walk and turn around when you feel like it’s time. If traveling with adventurous teenagers, you can try out the other famous bucket list hike, Angel’s Landing.

Other fun activities in the park are playing in the Virgin River and checking out the Zion Nature Center. The nature center has exhibits, games, activities, and books and is the perfect choice for when you need a little break from the sun.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
The closest airport to the park is McCarran International Airport (2 hours and 45 minutes away) in Las Vegas. You can also fly into Salt Lake City airport (four hours away) if you are planning to include the other national parks in Utah to your itinerary.

Where To Stay:
Zion National Park has three campgrounds that can be reserved ahead of time. You can learn more about the different camping options HERE. The only lodging available within the park is Zion Lodge. Because of its steep price, most visitors opt to stay in the town of Springdale at a hotel or an Airbnb. You can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Springdale, Utah here. There’s also the town of Hurricane, which is 30 minutes away from Zion but will offer cheaper stays than Springdale. You can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Hurricane, Utah here.

7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location:
Tennessee

Why Visit With Kids?
Hiking, Waterfalls, Elk, Fireflies
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the MOST popular park in the US. And while we can’t find a solid reason why it’s the most visited park in the US, we also can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t want to visit The Smokies. The primary activity in the Smokies is going to be hoofing it through one of the 800 miles of trails offered in the park. From beginner to advanced, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails suitable from toddlers to teenagers. The most popular trails to hit with kids will undoubtedly be one of the many waterfall hikes. If you want the chance to walk behind a waterfall, check out Grotto Falls, a 2.6-mile moderate hike.

If visiting in the summertime, bring bathing suits so you can take a dip in one of the many waterways and streams sprinkled throughout the park.

Other popular kid’s activities are driving or biking through Cades Cove, spotting elk near the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park, and our personal favorite, watching the fireflies do a synchronistic light show during their two-week mating season. Exact times can’t be known, but it generally happens from May to mid-June.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

The Smokies is one of the best national parks for kids not only because of it’s outstanding nature, but also because of it’s proximity to nearby cities that offer fun activities for when you’re not visiting the park. Cities like Gatlinburg, Knoxville, Asheville (our personal favorite!), and Greenville can provide a balanced itinerary for your national park vacation.

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How To Get There:
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is quite big with 3 entrances spread across two states. Most people enter from the Sugarland entrance in Gatlinburg, TN. The closest airport to Gatlinburg is the McGhee-Tyson Airport located in Knoxville (50 minutes away). Because of it’s proximity to other major cities, you could also choose to fly into Asheville NC, Greenville SC, or Nashville, TN.

Where To Stay:
There is plenty of front country camping available in the park and many allow reservations beforehand. You can learn more about the different camping options HERE. The only lodge within the park is LeConte Lodge but it requires a 5-mile hike to get to it, so not the best option if you’re traveling with young kids. Most people situate themselves in the highly touristed towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. You can look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Gatlinburg, TN here. If you’re looking for something quieter than Gatlingburg, you can also look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Townsend, TN.

8. Glacier National Park

Location:
Montana
Why Visit With Kids?

Lakes, glaciers, huckleberry picking
Glacier National Park is one of the top national parks for families and adventurers alike. With jaw-dropping scenery, crystal clear lakes, mountain goats, and wild berries to forage, kids will love this epic playground. With 700 lakes in Glacier and kids being natural water lovers it’s hard to decide where to start your grand family adventure. A popular starting point is taking the lovelty and short Trail of the Cedars which links up to an easy to moderate hike to Avalanche Lake, where they can look for rocks and wade in the frigid waters. While at Glacier NP, it’s a good idea to always have water shoes and water toys at the ready, since everywhere you turn is another body of water to be played in.

Other fun kid-friendly activities are taking a white water rafting tour, driving the Going To The Sun Road, paddleboarding, kayaking, bike riding, and huckleberry picking (our personal favorite). Huckleberry picking season is in summer and is the unofficial fruit of Montana. While you’ll be sure to see it offered in every cafe, it’s more fun to find a patch on your own. You can ask the park rangers where the best spots are for finding huckleberry patches.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:

Glacier Park International Airport is the closest airport to the west entrance of the park and is about 30 minutes away from the entrance. You can also opt for a road trip and fly into Spokane International Airport (a five-hour drive) in Washington state.

Where To Stay:
Glacier National Park has 13 campgrounds and allows reservations for many of them. You can learn more about the different campgrounds HERE. The park also has 8 different lodges ranging from simple accommodations to rustic luxury. You can learn more about lodging in the park HERE. Since staying in a lodge can be quite pricy, many choose to stay outside of the park in Whitefish, Montana. A great hotel option is the Marriott Towneplace Suites. You can also look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Whitefish, MT here.

9. Yosemite National Park

Location:
California
Why Visit With Kids?

Rock climbing, towering waterfalls, awe-inspiring cliffs
Yosemite is one of the grandest national parks and is largely considered not only one of the best US national parks but one of the best family-friendly national parks. While many national parks are minimal in their amenities, Yosemite packs a punch with offering everything from bare minimum backcountry hiking to full-service luxury services.

With 12 miles of smooth, flat biking trails, bike riding is a great family activity to do around the valley. No need to bring bikes with you since you can rent them at Yosemite Valley Lodge. Next up is playing in the clear waters of the Merced River. Your kids can play in the sandbanks or you can rent inner tubes and float 3 miles down the river, where a shuttle service will take you back. Once you’ve exhausted yourself with water activities, it’s time to explore one of the many kid-friendly hiking trails offered in the park.

Yosemite is famous for being the place to be for rock climbing enthusiasts. Even your kids can get in on the mix with fun age-appropriate classes that will teach them the basics of mountain climbing. Afterward, your kids can sit in the valley with some binoculars and watch the daredevil climbers ascend El Capitan.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
 The closest airport is the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (1 and a 1/2 hour drive). You might be able to find cheaper fares flying into San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and San Jose International Airport. The latter options will be a roughly 3-hour drive.

Where To Stay:

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds of which 7 of them can be reserved ahead of time. You can learn more about the different campgrounds HERE. Yosemite offers several different lodging options within the park, from basic cabins to a luxury stay at The Ahwahnee. You can learn more about the different accommodations HERE. In general, it’s best to stay within the park, but there are several options that will be less pricy outside of the park. Rush Creek Lodge is a nice lodge located right outside of the park entrance. There are also several Airbnbs located within the park and right outside the entrances. You can look for a family-friendly Airbnb HERE.

10. Mammoth Cave National Park

Location:
Kentucky
Why Visit With Kids?

Cave exploring
While Mammoth Cave National Park may not be on the radar for most people, we think it’s unique offerings of a complex cave system make it an excellent choice when looking for the best national parks for kids. Perhaps you have a budding explorer or scientist in your family who would think exploring underground tunnels is just as cool as playing video games.

The only way to explore Mammoth Cave National Park is through a guided tour. You’ll want to look at all the tours offered and find the one that’s the perfect fit for your family. Adventurous kids that are 10 years old and up might like the Introduction to Caving Tour where you crawl and climb through hard to reach spaces. Or for kids 6 years and older, there’s the Great Onyx Lantern Tour where you can see and learn about the unique formations in the cave. The tours change according to the season, so check HERE for updated tour information.

While exploring the caves is the top draw for Mammoth Caves National Park, you can also explore outside of the caves and go hiking, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, and swimming.

Check HERE to see what kind of educational and fun Junior Ranger programs the park offers.

How To Get There:
The closest airport to Mammoth Cave National Park is the Nashville International Airport in TN and the Louisville International Airport in KY. Both are about 1 and a half hour drive to the national park.

Where To Stay:
The park has three front-country campgrounds that can be reserved ahead of time. You can learn more about the campgrounds HERE. The Lodge at Mammoth Cave is the only lodge available within the park. You can learn more about the lodge HERE. You can also stay outside of the park in Cave City, Kentucky. A popular spot for families is Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. You can also look for family-friendly AirBnb’s in Cave City, KY here.


Tips For Visiting National Parks With Kids

When planning a family vacation to the national parks, preparation is everything to having a great time. Before you go:

-Make sure you know about the wildlife that lives in the park and proper safety protocols. Every park has its own website that will go over animal safety. We always hike with bear spray and know how to use it. Here’s a good example of how the Yellowstone National Park website outlines how to practice bear safety in the park.

-Use the Visitor Centers! The park rangers offer the greatest wealth of information and can help direct you to what would suit your family best. Ask questions and let them know what kind of adventure you’re looking for, whether that’s a hard hike, off the beaten path, or super easy. They know more than anyone else!

-Teach your kids about the basics of Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace movement is rooted in backcountry exploration but is fundamentally about respect for the outdoors and leaving it the same as you came. You can learn more about it HERE.

America The Beautiful Pass

If you’ll be visiting more than one national park within 365 days, you might want to invest in an America The Beautiful Pass. The pass allows you admittance into 2000 federal lands for a one time fee of $80. You can learn more about the pass HERE.

National Park Passport

A fun way to get your kids excited is to buy a national park passport. For every national park you visit, you can get a passport stamp from the Visitors Center. It’s a fun way to get them involved and excited about visiting other national parks. You can create your own passport with a spiral notebook or purchase a preformatted journal like this one HERE.

National Parks Kid Books

Another fun way to get your kids excited is to buy activity books that are centered around the national parks. We like the following:

National Park Adventure Guide
National Geographic Junior Ranger Activity Book
America’s National Parks from Lonely Planet Kids


That’s our round-up of the 10 best national parks for kids. Again, EVERY national park is a great park for kids, so once you’ve made your way through these, you’ll have to then get to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Death Valley National Park and on and on and on. Yeah, we’ll see you at the parks.

Let us know your favorite national park to visit with kids in the comments below.

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