Are National Parks kid friendly? In our opinion they are one of the best vacations to do in the USA with kids. But with over 50 National Parks in the US how can you know which are the best ones to visit with kids? I think that all of the National Parks have something to offer for families looking for a vacation but if you are in need of information about which National park you should holiday in with your family then we can help! In this guide family travel experts round up the best USA National Parks to visit with kids with top tips and advice to make the most out of your trip!
Best USA National Parks to Visit with Kids
In this guide we list the parks alphabetically to help you pick national parks kids will love to visit.
Acadia National Park with kids by DQ Travel
Nearest Town: Bar Harbor, Maine
We have visited many best national parks with kids around the U.S. and still believe that Acadia National Park is the best for families. Acadia National Park is located in the northeastern corner of Maine and is considered one of the most beautiful natural areas in the United States. Kids can enjoy gentle hikes around lakes, marine life viewing at tidepools, rock scrambling around the pink granite formations and a scenic carriage ride through the miles of old carriage roads in Acadia. What is unique about Acadia National Park is the forest landscape combined with the towering granite cliffs right next to the Atlantic Ocean. There are several family-friendly hikes suitable for toddlers, elementary aged children, and even the more adventurous teenagers. I would recommend doing some advance research before you arrive in Acadia to check trail difficulty and decide which is best for your family. Arriving early to the popular trails is always important as parking lots tend to fill up by mid-morning. Another factor that kids usually enjoy is the fog. Due to its remote location on the coast, Acadia has many days that are foggy, which adds a different element to the hike or drive. Overall, Acadia is my pick for one the best national parks for families due to its gorgeous scenery, wooded hiking trails, and rocky oceanfront views. This is really one of the best national park with toddlers, teenagers or just for the young at heart!
Arches National Park with kids by Oregon Girl Around the World
Nearest Town: Moab, Utah
Situated just outside charming Moab, Utah – Arches National Park is one of the best national parks in USA. It was like nothing I had ever seen before my first visit. Our family has now been several times and we can highly recommend it. Great for all ages and levels of physical fitness there is something to impress everyone here.
Red rocks like the landscape of mars dominate the discoveries. Start at the Park Welcome Center just outside Moab. Sign up for the National Park kids program – the Junior Ranger program where kids will receive a small booklet to engage them in learning about the geology and biology of the area. Complete the tasks and return to the Visitor’s Center for a Junior Ranger certificate and badge.
Much of Arches wonder can be seen from the car with easy parking lots and turn-outs to take in natural marvels like Balancing Rock. A short walk takes you up to Windows Arches for amazing views. If your kids are up for a bit of a hike – Landscape Arch is the longest natural arch in the park and the 5th longest in the world. There are thoughts that it won’t last much longer and definitely worth seeing. But Sand Dune Arch might be our favorite. A big hill of fine red sand makes it fun to run off some steam.
The park is busiest March – October. Take care in summer months as temperatures can soar to 100°F (37°C) and shade is limited. Bring lots of water with you – limited facilities past the main visitor center. And remember sunscreen and wear sturdy shoes for hiking to get peeks at some of the park’s icons. This is really one of the most kids friendly national parks!
Badlands National Park one of the most kid friendly national parks
Nearest City: Rapid City, South Dakota
The Badlands is perhaps my favourite national park to visit with or without kids and is in my opinion the best national park for toddlers to get their first national park experience! ! Located a short 50 minute drive from Rapid City it is a really accessible park to visit!
The loop road offers many easy to walk trailheads as well as many viewpoints on the road side which makes seeing the best this park has to offer with kids really easy! Now visiting National parks with toddlers can seem daunting but I think Badlands is a great option for visiting with littles in tow. On top of the loop road, you can take another short drive and head towards Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Kids are sure to love spending time with the little critters but make sure they don’t touch.
As well as the prairie dogs, Badlands is full of other wildlife spotting opportunities! A highlight on our visit was seeing a herd of bison running next to our car! We saw more bison in the Badlands than we did in Yellowstone!
The Badlands is also really well positioned being close to Rapid City, Custer State Park and the Mount Rushmore National Monument!
But one of the best things about the Badlands National Park is that by comparison to many of the other parks is that it is exceptionally quiet which means that you really feel like you are in touch with nature! To me this is the one of the best national parks with toddlers to visit!
Big Bend National Park with Kids by Outside Suburbia
Nearest Town: Del Rio, Texas
Big Bend National Park encompasses the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States and nestles in a curve of the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico. It is after the bend in the river that the park was named after. Big Bend is a huge park and it is easy to see a lot of it in a short amount of time. Big Bend is one of the most remote and least visited parks in the lower 48 states with a low level of light pollution, which means, brilliant stargazing!
Start with a visit to the Panther Junction Visitor’s center which features several interpretive exhibits, many of them interactive and exciting for kids of all ages. The existing large 3-d relief map as well as the full size model of the 18′ wing of Quetzalcoatlus northroppi, the famous Big Bend Pterosaur, remain as all-time favorites. The life-size replica of the wing bones of an enormous pterosaur, a 18-foot long specimen was discovered in Big Bend National Park and represents the second largest known flying creature ever to have existed.
Canyonlands National Park – one of the most family friendly national parks
Nearest Town: Moab, Utah
I always feel like Canyonlands is the neglected sibling of Arches National Park. Just 30 minutes away form Arches, Canyonlands is much less visited than Arches National Park but no less stunning. There are three areas to Canyonlands National Park but the best area to visit with kids is Islands in the Sky. There are many accessible trailheads but be sure to use something like toddler back packs or reins with smaller children on trailheads where there aren’t any railings. On the surface this might not be one of the best national parks to visit with toddlers however as long as you pack correctly and think about how best to organise your day it is totally doable!
The beautiful red rocks look otherworldly and seem to stretch beyond the horizon. Much of Islands in the Sky area can be seen from the car with easy parking lots and turn-outs to take in trails and the best views.
The parks is best visited from the nearby and quirky town of Moab which offers many lodges for all different price points!
The park is busiest from March – October and please be careful during the summer as temperatures sky rocket often hitting 100°F (37°C) and shade is limited. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen and hats for littles!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park with Kids – Yoder Toter
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has the distinction of being Ohio’s ONLY National Park. Established in 2000, Cuyahoga Valley National Park lies between two of Ohio’s largest cities, Akron and Cleveland. I think much of the park’s appeal is that it is easily accessible from many major roads and highways- you’re never more than 20 minutes away from a Starbucks!
Families come to CVNP for unique experiences. The park contains over 125 miles of hiking trails, multiple waterfalls, and a scenic railroad. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad allows travelers to either view the park via a round-trip journey or take their bike onboard and return to their starting part via their own manpower. The Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath trail offers 87-miles of walking and biking trails that was mostly the former Ohio-Erie Canal Towpath.
Cuyahoga Valley National Parkoffers plenty to do with kids. Make sure you stop at the Canal Exploration Center to find out about the history of the Ohio-Erie Canal. Look for special events with a lock demonstration. Other locations worth visiting Brandywine Falls and The Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail. Brandywine Falls is a 60-foot waterfall, the second highest in Ohio. The falls are best observed from a deck. This is not the place to bring a stroller!
The Virginia Kendall Ledges Trail is 2.2 miles of breathtaking beauty. Travelers of all ages will appreciate the moss-covered boulders and sandstone cliffs. It is one of the best national parks to visit with baby but it’s best to keep little ones close or in a hiking carrier, but for older children, they may think they are in the jungles of southeast Asia, not northeast Ohio.
Death Valley National Park with Kid by Chris Travel Blog
Death Valley National Park is a great park to visit with kids and a must-include on any USA west coast itinerary. It’s possible to visit just a day but best is to stay overnight so that you can also visit Racetrack Playa were boulders move but nobody knows why. Maybe they are the golf balls from the Devils Golf Course? Death Valley is a great place to tell stories to your kids while enjoying this alien world.
Other recommended places are Badwater Basin (below sea level), Mesquite Dunes, Mosaic Canyon and Titus Canyon. If you drive Titus Canyon you need 4×4 as you do for Racetrack Playa. Both will take up the most of a day trip. Mesquite Dunes are best visited in the morning when all tracks are gone except those of animals. Mosaic Canyon has awesome colors and is a must see. There are many more places of interest that will impress your kids.
Make sure to bring enough water and drink as much as you can as Death Valley is dry and hot. Especially with kids make sure they drink enough too. Sunscreen is another must as you will get burned in no time. Salty snacks are the best as drinking a lot of water can give problems if you do not eat. Just take care, especially with smaller kids, and all will be fine.
Death Valley is great with kids and for sure will be a memorable visit.
Denali National Park with Kids by Dashin Ash
If you’re venturing at all outside of the cruise circuit in Alaska, Denali National Park is probably on your list of “must dos.” At first, traveling with children through Denali sounds almost terrible. The only way to get into the park is on park buses, by foot or bicycle. With ninety miles of park road ahead of you, the bus is the best for with children, but it takes around 8 hours round trip. There are incredible wildlife sighting opportunities to keep you busy. Also, children under four years old need to be in a car seat, which can add a challenge for parents when it comes to storing it while you explore. There are two places inside the park that can store the seats for you, Wonder Lake and the Eielson Visitor Center.
Once you’ve conquered those issues, Denali is incredible for young curious minds. Too often children are encouraged to curb their curiosity and stick to the well trodden path. Denali is the opposite, they have an open policy there as far as hiking and exploring. As you’re riding on the bus, if something looks interesting, simply ask to get off. Hiking is not limited to trails, so you can literally go anywhere you want. There in late summer? Encourage the little ones to look for blueberries. They’re delicious, and abundant, and the park rangers want you to eat them.
Like most National Parks, the Junior Park Ranger program is great in Denali. I especially loved it because you could go exploring, and then later, back on the bus, there was something to do that reconnected you with the amazing wilderness you just explored. There are multiple visitor’s centers within the park boundaries where you can collect your badge, and learn even more. The best are the Murie Science and Learning Center, and the Sled Dog Kennel. The former has computers, games, and a ton of opportunities for hands on learning. The later allows you to pet and play with the dogs before the watching an interesting and exciting demonstration.
Glacier National Park with kids by Yorkshire Tots to Teens
Nearest Town: Whitefish, Montana
Glacier National Park is a stunning park with amazing views. It is located in NorthWest Montana and continues up into Canada. A drive up over the Going to the Sun Road allows you to see waterfalls, glaciers and event the occasional mountain goat! The park has over 700 miles of trails to explore but if you’re looking for a child friendly hike with views the Trail to the Cedars is an all access trail (so buggy and wheelchair friendly) and it turns into a slightly more challenging walk up to Avelance Creek. It’s a great experience for kids to hike into a lake that can only be reached by foot ! I do recommend getting to the trail head early as there isn’t much parking and it gets very crowded later in the day. The coloured stones and crystal clear water at Lake McDonald make it a great place for families to swim and there are several ice cream shops and cafes near the shore for a bite to eat or a treat!
Grand Teton National Park with Kids by Let’s Travel Family
Nearest Town: Jackson Hole
Grand Teton National Park is such a beautiful and large National Park which receives less traffic than Yellowstone but is in the same area of the US. It not only provides several campgrounds, beautiful views, and many hiking trails but also many miles of paved biking trails. When our family visited, we also appreciated the proximity to the city of Jackson, Wyoming and the chance to visit their summer farmer’s market on the weekends.
When visiting Grand Teton’s with kids, be sure to plan a visit to String Lake at the foot of the mountains. It’s a crystal-clear lake that many families frequent for fun swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking and more. Be sure to arrive early in the day so that you can find a parking spot. Hiking around some great trails is also a very popular family activity. Just be aware that you are at a high elevation that can make your kids, and yourselves, a bit more winded.
If you plan to drive around the park to see the sights with the kids, be sure to pack snacks. It’s a large park and can often take some time to get from place to place. Especially when you might want to stop to see the views!
Great Smoky National Park with Kids by Family can Travel
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in all of the United States. Being part of the Appalachian Mountain range, there’s no shortage of hikes that can get you to some incredible vistas, waterfalls or enjoying the peacefulness of the forest. If you get lucky with the weather, Clingmans Dome will offer some incredible views on a clear day and kids will love climbing to the top of the dome. There are plenty of other kid friendly hikes in the area, like Porters Creek which will take you along an easy trail near a creek to a waterfall. Of course, the chance to see a black bear along the road will be pretty exciting as well. It really is one of the best national parks to visit with family in tow!
Tips for visiting with kids: Make sure to pack rain gear and talk to your kids about how to behave in case of a bear encounter. Once the kids need a break from hiking, nearby Gatlinburg has plenty of activities they will love like the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies or the chair lift and canopy walk at Anakeesta.
Grand Canyon with kids by Our 3 Kids RV the World
As an Australian, you can’t visit America without visiting the Grand Canyon, however most time poor Australian’s will do a helicopter tour leaving from Las Vegas usually taking half a day. We decided to drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, stay a night and then drive on to Las Vegas. This was perfect as I had always wanted to see a sunrise at the Grand Canyon.
Rightfully so, the Grand Canyon would have to one of the most visited National Parks in the USA. We were able to drive around and view it from different parts and as the sun rose the colours in the Canyon changed and made it even more spectacular. The kids did bored after about the 20th stop and photo session and the car meant they could jump out for a look them jump back in the car while we took our time taking in the grandness of it all.
I would have loved to have seen it from the air or taken a mule ride into the centre if we had more time but I did love that we were able to drive around and stop when we wanted and stay as long as we like. We also got some great photos of the kids on the very edge of the Canyon.
Joshua Tree National Park by Learning Escapes
Joshua Tree National Park is one of our family’s favourite places, and not just in the US – it is one of the best national parks for young kids in the world! The park is often described as ‘otherworldly’ and indeed, it has a type of landscape that makes it unique and easily captures the imagination of adults and kids alike.
Located in California, about 3h by car from LA, Joshua Tree National Park lies at the meeting point of two different desert systems: the Colorado and the Mojave desert. Its most distinctive traits are the Joshua trees that give it its name and giant boulders that erosion has carved into smooth yet elaborate shapes.
The Joshua trees are unique to this part of America and they are big plants of Yucca stretching their arms to the sky. Settlers in the area named them after the prophet Joshua but when we visited with the kids their mental association for the plants was very different: they thought they looked like Dr Seuss’ truffula trees!
Joshua tree is a pleasure to visit at all ages but is particularly easy to enjoy with kids. Limited in size, the park can be easily visited in one day and several hikes are suitable for children such as those along the Skull Rock discovery trail and Cholla cactus garden.
The best way to visit Joshua tree is to drive to the area and spend a few days exploring different trails. You can find our practical tips for a visit here where you will also learn about the Joshua Tree NP junior ranger programme
Lassen Volcanic National Park by A Modern Mother
This is real undiscovered California. Lassen Volcanic National Park has the incredible mountain scenery of Yosemite coupled with the thermal mud pots and hot springs of Yellowstone – but without the crowds. If you have ever waited an hour in traffic in Yosemite you will understand how wonderful this is. Lassen is one of the few places you can see the 3 different types of geothermal features and the four types of volcanoes. Check it out! This is undoubtedly the best national park with kids.
Rocky Mountain National Park by Fitz 5 on the Go
Rocky Mountain National Park about 1 1/2 outside of Denver is one of the best national parks for young families in the country, especially for those that love mountains. I like to drive through Winter Park and Grand Lake to the East Entrance. From the East entrance you’ll be taking Trail Ridge Road. This is the highest continuous paved road in the US and reaches a height of 12,183. The drive has spectacular scenery but is not for anyone with a fear of heights. Sometimes the road just drops and there is a ridge where the road has cliffs on both sides. Aim for a morning drive – afternoon thunderstorms can be a problem. I love staying in Grand Lake then driving Trail Ridge Road the following day. The road closes in early fall/late summer and it’s a good idea to check the weather before you go.
Once you make it safely across the mountains, the west side of the park is a nature lovers paradise. The wildlife is amazing. Moraine Park is my favorite campground and has some wonderful ranger programs and breathtaking scenery. If camping isn’t your thing, the nearby town of Estes Park has a wide range of lodging, food and activity choices.
White Sands National Monument in New Mexico by Everyday Wanderer
If you want to enjoy all of the fun of snow sledding without the cold, wet experience that comes with snow, then put White Sands National Monument at the top of your list of US National Parks to visit with kids! The fine, powder-soft texture of the sand in the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field near Alamogordo, New Mexico is a blast for kids of all ages.
Pro Tip: Did you head to the Chihuahuan Desert and forget to pack a snow sled? Don’t worry! Sleds and blocks of wax are available in the White Sands Visitor Center. But when you visit White Sands, here’s what you should absolutely take with you.
While you could easily spend your entire visit to White Sands National Monument playing in the sand, there are other things to do there when you visit with kids. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center to borrow an Adventure Pack and pick up Junior Ranger booklet. (Both are free!) While at the Visitors Center, walk through the Native Plant Garden that changes with the seasons. You also won’t want to miss “ A Land in Motion,” a fantastic 17-minute film about White Sands and the creatures that call it home. It really is one of the best national park vacations for families!
Yellowstone National Park with Kids by Parenthood and Passports
Closest Town: West Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park is not only the oldest national park in the United States, it is also one of the most fascinating and one of the best national parks for kids to visit.
With 60 percent of the earth’s geysers located inside Yellowstone, the park is a captivating, hands-on science lesson for children. A visit to Old Faithful gives you the opportunity to watch an active geyser erupt, while a short hike to the overlook of Grand Prismatic Spring gives you a bird’s eye view of one of the largest hot springs in the world. But the incredible geothermal features in the park aren’t the only things to see in Yellowstone.
The park boasts several powerful waterfalls, beautiful lakes and rivers, and more than 200 species of animals making it one of the best national parks for toddlers. Children of all ages will enjoy watching the herds of bison in their native habitat. Deer, moose, wolves, and even bears are often seen in the park, as well. Although the geothermal features and the wildlife do present a certain amount of perceived danger, Yellowstone is perfectly safe for families, as long you use precautions. Keep young children within an arm’s length at all times, and do not leave the marked trails or boardwalks. It’s also highly recommended that you carry bear spray when doing any hiking outside of the major tourist areas, in the event you encounter wildlife.
Yellowstone offers families a great place to disconnect, bond, and enjoy the outdoors. Whether camping, hiking, cycling, or simply sightseeing your family will make some unforgettable memories and experience some of the most spectacular natural wonders in the USA.
Yosemite National Park with Kids by No Back Home
Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful and iconic parks in the Us, if not the world. The beauty of Yosemite extends beyond the natural surroundings with a wide range of accommodation options, hikes and activities, making it ideal for all types of families.
If there is only one thing you do at Yosemite, it must be exploring Yosemite Valley. Yes, this is where most tourist head, and for good reason. There is a multitude of things to do here from riding bikes (or pulling the little ones in a trailer) to hiking and participating in ranger led activities.
One of the best ways to escape the crowds is to hop on a bike to explore the 12 miles of gorgeous trails cross crossing the park while looking for deer, bobcats and more. For the best view, head to Glacier Point, where you can hike or just take in awe-inspiring views of Half Dome, waterfalls and more.
Younger kids will love a visit to the Happy Isles Nature Center for a ranger led hike or to just check out their awesome poop exhibit. Lastly, our favorite leisurely walk with kids is to Mirror Lake. Beautiful scenery, opportunities for rock scrambling and splashing in the water.
Whether you camp, stay in tent cabins or in a hotel, spending time in Yosemite will provide ample opportunities to replenish, refresh and rejuvenate.
Zion National Park with Kids by Adventure and Sunshine!
Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park is famous for its sheer red and pink sandstone cliffs, the crystal clear river carving through the valley and range of hiking trails for all abilities.
There are a number of great hikes to take with kids. The Canyon Overlook Trail, Riverside Trail and the Emerald Pool Trail are all easy hikes with kids of any age.
Our school aged kids managed the strenuous 8 mile hike to Observation Point. The views of the park from the top are simply incredible and well worth the climb. There are a number of sections with steep drop offs, so you need to be confident in the ability of your kids to follow instructions and take care as they walk.
Hidden Canyon was another unexpected delight. The walk in to the canyon has very steep drop offs. But once you reach the canyon it is much less crowded than other trails and is a very pretty canyon to explore. Our kids loved this trail.
Our best tips for visiting Zion National Park with kids are:
Start your hikes early. Zion National Park is a very popular park with over 4 million visitors a year. By starting early you can enjoy the trails without the crowds.
Pop in to the Visitor Centre when you arrive to see what ranger-led programs are scheduled. Also pick up a Junior Ranger activity book for the kids. Encourage them to complete the activities and return to the Centre to take a pledge and collect their Junior Ranger badge.
What’s your favorite USA National Park with kids?
Further National Park Reading
- Yellowstone Itineraries -1-4 Days
- Yellowstone Packing List
- Where to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park
- Best Things to Do in Yellowstone with Kids
- National Park Bucket List
- South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
- Badlands With Kids
- Moab 3 Day Itinerary
- Things to Do in Arches National Park
- Things to Do in Canyonlands National Park