Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona's iconic park is certainly memorable from any vantage point, but families can do more than stop at roadside overlooks. Try the mostly paved Rim Trail on the south side of this mile-deep canyon for an easy hike; a free shuttle bus service also runs along various scenic routes.
Kids can learn about the natural history of the canyon at the Yavapai Geology Museum and climb the 70-foot Desert View Watchtower for more terrific views.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A camping favorite in Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains has 10 developed campgrounds, all with restrooms. Auto touring is popular—try the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, which takes you past historic log cabins and grist mills.
Trailheads for the pretty Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls lie nearby. For wildlife lovers of all ages, two organizations within the park offer workshops, classes and weeklong summer camps.
Yellowstone National Park
Half of the world's geysers are located in Yellowstone, the world's first national park. The most famous, Old Faithful, is aptly named, with regular eruptions; in fact, older kids can even try using the rangers' formula to predict the next one.
Plenty of easy hiking trails make it simple to explore this nearly 3,500-mile expanse centered mostly in Wyoming, which is also the site of a supervolcano and the largest high-elevation lake in the continental U.S.
Redwood National and State Parks
There's no better place to instill a lifelong love of forests than among Northern California's redwoods. Camp at one of four developed campgrounds and take the group on walks or scenic drives among these towering trees, which tend to be between 500 and 700 years old.
The partially paved Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a one-mile loop, is one of several accessible paths; you can also drive or hike along the Pacific coastline, stopping at tide pools to look for starfish.
Shenandoah National Park
Just 75 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., Virginia's Shenandoah offers a great way to combine a nature experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a visit to the nation's capital. The park has five campgrounds open spring through fall, along with several picnic areas.
Driving Skyline Drive is a popular way to take in the views, especially when fall color peaks, but there are also easy hikes and guided horseback tours.
Cape Cod National Seashore
With 15 towns and a mix of beaches and forested campgrounds, this stretch of Massachusetts coastline is a summer family paradise, boasting a variety of activities and attractions. One favorite is the Whydah Pirate Museum, right near the Cape Cod Inflatable Park.
In Provincetown, take a short trolley tour or go on a whale watch. And don't miss the chance to see a drive-in movie in Wellfleet, about a half-hour drive south of Provincetown.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Where else can you go sandboarding down a huge dune? Kids will adore this national park in Colorado, where the Sangre de Cristo mountains serve as a backdrop to surreal, sloping sand mounds that can also be hiked or ridden with special sleds.
In late spring, the park's Medano Creek takes on a beach-like vibe, as families splash in its waters and kids ride its surges on skimboards and small rafts.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Shipwrecks, waterfalls and colorful sandstone cliffs mark the landscape at this coastline retreat in Michigan. Don't miss the easy, three-mile walk to Au Sable Light Station, which takes you along the shore and past some of the lakeshore's fabled shipwreck remains.
Family-friendly hikes include the half-mile Sand Point Marsh Trail, which meanders through a wildlife-filled wetland.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
This park in northeastern Ohio is close to at least three cities, but it feels a world away. Families can take an old-fashioned train ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and hike to waterfalls such as Brandywine Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, both of which offer nearby parking and viewing platforms.
Along the Ohio & Erie Canalway, kids can go on educational quests for hidden boxes.
Everglades National Park
Paved trails and tram tours make it easy to explore south Florida's famed wetlands, home to alligators, turtles, herons and other wildlife. On the Mahogany Hammock boardwalk trail, you'll see the largest living mahogany tree in the U.S. and possibly a bald eagle.
The 15-mile Tram Road, where tram tours run, can also be walked or ridden by bike.
Gulf State Park
Located along Alabama's white-sand beaches, Gulf State tends to have a full calendar of activities such as nature talks and games. Kids will love seeing live turtles, snakes and other animals at the nature center, and there are more than 25 miles of easy, bikeable trails.
Beach activities include kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing and volleyball—but of course, just relaxing is a good option too.
Best destinations for families
Camping with kids in tow? Here’s exactly where to head.
March 14, 2018 12:59 PM
July 23, 2018 04:39 PM