5 Best National Parks for Families
Affordable, adventure travel ideas for America's most beautiful parks
The Blue Ridge Mountains are a stunning backdrop to Skyline Drive. This route is ideal if you aren't feeling so peppy. You can see one panoramic view after another without getting out of the car. Also take a hike on the famed Appalachian Trail -- most of it is smooth and level.
When to Go: "The vibrant tree tunnels are breathtaking in the fall," says Karen Beck-Herzog, a park officer. Also consider spring, when colorful wildflowers fill the meadows.
Good to Know: While the Appalachian Trail is an easy enough walk for most, the Limberlost Trail -- short, wide, and flat -- is perfect for strollers. (The handicapped-accessibility information on all national-park websites clues you in to where you can take a stroller.)
The 411: Check out the Hiking with Children classes on Nps.gov/shen.
Olympic: Washington State
Can't decide on mountains, beaches, or woods? Here, you get three parks in one. From Hurricane Ridge, there are views of snowcapped mountains and alpine meadows. Take a short hike through the rain forest, where the lush floor is filled with ferns and big-leaf maples, and Sitka spruces and Douglas firs droop in to form a canopy. Then relax on the beach -- there are 73 miles of protected coastline here.
When to Go: Because the park is a rain forest (140 inches of annual rainfall!), plan a trip during the driest time of year, August to September.
Good to Know: Each of the lodges has a short hiking trail that starts just outside its doors, so if you overnight in the park, you can take a morning walk without much fuss.
The 411: Nps.gov/olym has separate guides for each of the park's zones: mountains, rain forest, and coast.
Grand Canyon: Arizona
We couldn't leave out this larger-than-life experience. Nicole Bateman, a mom of three in Tucson, AZ, took her kids to the park. "It was totally amazing," she says. "Once you clear the trees, there's just this huge... hole! The kids were so wowed, they were actually quiet." Most visitors head for the South Rim, but the North Rim, at a higher elevation, offers nearly as expansive views in more tranquil environs -- and from there, adventurers can take the famous mule ride into the canyon. Kids 7 and up can ride for an hour, 10- and 11-year-olds for half a day, and 12 and up can take a full-day journey.
When to Go: May, or mid-September to mid-October, for the nicest weather and fewer people.
Good to Know: Come prepared with plenty of water, snacks, and layered clothing. The weather can vary a lot from one rim to the other and from one hour to the next.
The 411: Take a virtual tour at grandcanyon.org/fieldinstitute/virtualtour.asp.