Some of the most memorable trips of my youth were the simplest, yet most extraordinary, and what could fit that description better than a visit to one of our country's beautiful National Parks? We are so fortunate to live in a country with such a diversity of natural wonders; lush forests, geysers, astounding rock formations, even volcanoes! Below is just a sampling of what our National Parks have to offer to visitors of all ages - from coast to coast, whether desert or tropical climate, there are memories waiting to be made in one of our nation's greatest treasures!
1. Grand Canyon (Arizona)
Grand Canyon is one of the most celebrated National Parks in the U.S.; but it's easy to make the mistake of driving to one of its many overlooks, gazing out upon its majestic scenery, and then leaving. Why not etch the grandeur of the park into your family's collective memory by truly experiencing the Grand Canyon? Consider taking a hike or even a guided tour (by land, water, or air!) to get a closer look at the canyon; there's the family friendly Bright Angel Trail for hikers or the pricier, but truly extraordinary, "flightseeing" option (a list of outfitters are available from Grand Canyon Chamber & Visitor's Bureau)! Quick word of warning, because of excessively high temperatures in the summer months, autumn is the best season to visit; also, visitors should always pack adequate water.
2. Arches (Utah)
Arches is one of the smallest and most inviting National Parks; as well as one of the most breathtaking. Along a variety of trails you’ll find astounding stone arches and rock formations, each more spectacular than the last (it is estimated that the park contains upwards of 1,500 arches!). Families travelling with young children should take the easy walks along Balanced Rock path or stop and wander at the overlook point for Delicate Arch. The park also plays host to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and many trails are paved for accessibility! Added bonus: Arches National Park is conveniently situated only five miles from Moab, one of the nation’s premier camping, hiking, and mountain biking destinations.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes (Hawaii)
The Big Island offers visitors a chance to experience active volcanoes close-up at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! This hot spot finds fiery lava flowing from the mouth of one of the world’s most active volcanoes; Kilauea regularly spews molten lava that reshapes the landscape as it flows down into the Pacific. Mauna Loa (the world's largest volcano) is also found here. The parks are accessible by car or foot and feature a multitude of some of the greatest sights vulcanism has to offer, including the Thurston Lava Tube! The park also offers several don't-miss favorites for kids, including: Echo Crater and Pu'uloa Petroglyphs!
4. Yellowstone (Wyoming and Montana)
Located on the border of Wyoming and Montana, Yellowstone is the country's first, and arguably best, National Park. Visitors of all ages marvel at the eruption of Old Faithful's towering geyser, the prolific wildlife, and the majestic scenery. With guided tours via bike or horseback, hiking, boating, and fishing, Yellowstone offers plenty of activities for families with children of any age! Don't miss The National Geographic Society's map that highlights historical, environmental, and cultural points of interest in the region!
5. Acadia (Maine)
Situated just outside of Bar Harbor on the eastern seaboard of Maine, Acadia National Park is considered the jewel of the northeast. From the mystifying forests of Mount Desert Island to the amazing views of the Atlantic from the peak of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia is an outdoor adventure to be savored! With miles of hiking trails, beautiful overlooks, and tidepool-laden beaches, Acadia has something to offer visitors of any age! Best in the autumn (when blackflies and mosquitoes are absent and the foliage is spectacular!), Acadia offers a number of activities for kids of all ages, including: Ranger-Narrated Boat Tours and a variety of Children's Programs. After a day outdoors, be sure to recharge with some of the fantastic local cuisine (we recommend the Maine lobsterbake at Stewman's Lobster Pound complete with lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, New England clam chowder, and fresh blueberry pie to top it all off!).
From coast to coast, America's National Parks offer a chance to share the phenomenal natural gifts of our country with its next generation of caretakers! So get on out into the open air and enjoy all the National Parks have to offer! Happy Travels!