When friends from other countries ask me for recommendations on what to visit while in the US, I always recommend a trip to a National Park. For families who live in the US, National Parks are an obvious choice for extraordinary scenery, unique landscapes, and natural adventures. In 2010, 281,303,769 recreational visitors from around the world spent time in National Parks! Here are some tips for those visiting a National Park with children: how you can enjoy everything the National Park Service has to offer, and make the trip memorable, educational, and fun for everyone.
Find a park. The National Park Service includes “national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.” See the complete list of National Park Service sites and affiliated areas to find one near you- or near your next travel destination.
Know the park.
Before you go, check out the National Park Service web site. Search for a park by location, activity, or name. Then, check out the park’s page where you can find specific information about the location:
- “Plan Your Visit“ contains multimedia presentations to help you orient to the park, guides, book recommendations, and other tips and suggestions to the specific park. In addition, there are links to
Directions, Operating Hours & Seasons Fees & Reservations Things To Do, Things To Know Before You Come, and Brochures.
- “For Kids” This section talks about the junior ranger program specific to the park, and frequently has other pdf’s for kids such as animals in the park, or nature worksheets. Some parks have storytimes, craft days, and other programs just for kids. Investigate before you go to maximize your fun!
Play some games. Before you leave on your trip, have your kids do some on-line activities to learn more about the National Parks. There are tons of (over 50!!) interactive games and activities on the “WebRangers” site whose topics include animals, people, history, nature, puzzles, science and parks.
Become a Junior Ranger. The Junior Ranger Program is offered at many of the National Parks (see the list here). Interested kids, ages 7-13, should inquire at the nearest visitor’s center. They will complete a series of activities during their park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch and Junior Ranger certificate. The ages are a little flexible, and my kids have been younger than 7 when we completed the program.
Keep a record of your visits. Get a “Passport to Your National Parks,” and stamp it at visitor center’s “cancellation station.” The stamps mark the location and the date you’ve visited. If you don’t have a passport, make your own and remember to bring it along so that you can collect your stamps.
When planning your next road trip, check out the nearest National Park! Use a map to locate your route to the park, and then pick up a map at the visitor’s center so the kids can follow along within the park. Get the kids involved in the many programs the NPS offers, and search out opportunities that interest your children such as nature, dinosaurs, wildlife, caves, or different sporting activities. National Parks are exciting for kids (and adults!) of all ages!
One last goodie for parents (if you’re an NPR junkie like I am!): check out NPR Road Trips: National Park Adventures CD! I got this for Christmas, and loved listening to it as we drove out to Big Bend National Park (Texas). Entertainment for the driver that keeps you awake and interested!
What are your favorite National Parks?
What were your favorite activities to do there?
Did you go there when you were a kid, as an adult, or even with your own kids?
Have your kids completed their Jr Ranger badge yet?
If you have any suggestions or recommendations, tell us about it in the comments!