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10+ Best American National Parks for Families to Visit

From hiking alongside magnificent glacial lakes to seeing volcanoes erupting in Hawai‘i and geysers shooting high into the sky in Yellowstone, a vast array of unforgettable outdoor adventures await in the USA’s national parks. Here are some to add to the family’s bucket list:

1. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A family hiking in Rocky Mountains National Park. Image Colorado Tourism Office
A family hiking in Rocky Mountains National Park. Image Colorado Tourism Office

For a real wilderness experience, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park ticks all the boxes! Here you’ll see some of the highest mountains in the US and landscapes ranging from alpine tundra and glacial lakes to meadows and forested valleys. With five campgrounds in the park, you can even sleep under the stars and wake to begin exploring any of the hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails, spot elk and bighorn sheep, ride a horse or fish in one of the 50 lakes and streams.

2. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

A ranger explaining the pahoehoe lava flow area in Volcanoes National Park on Island of Hawaii
A ranger explaining the pahoehoe lava flow area in Volcanoes National Park on Island of Hawaii

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, on Island of Hawai‘i, is an exciting destination for families. The activity booklet A Guide to Discovery and Exploration is distributed upon request at the Kilauea Visitor Center and must be completed in the park, which encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Children can take part in a ranger-guided program, complete two park explorations with their family, such as hiking through the Nahuku lava tube and through a rainforest, and create a poster to receive a Junior Ranger badge, made out of wood.

Enjoy a Volcanoes National Park Adventure Tour from Hilo

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park

The oldest National Park in the world, this Wyoming gem is famous for its geothermal pools and geysers including the best known, Old Faithful. From hot springs to waterfalls, volcanic plateaus and lakes, the park also boasts The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Visitors can make the most of being in real cowboy country with rodeos, horse riding and Wild West re-enactments in Cody, a popular gateway to the park and the town where Buffalo Bill left his mark.

4. Yosemite National Park, California

A family riding bikes through Yosemite National Park
A family riding bikes through Yosemite National Park

Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite boasts many iconic American landmarks including El Capitan, a ‘vertical wall’ that is the largest single granite rock on Earth and the magnificent granite peak of Half Dome as well as the 740m Yosemite Falls. Bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, black bear, mule deer and a variety of squirrel call Yosemite home.

Enjoy an amazing Yosemite Day Tour from San Francisco

5. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon. Image Scott Johnson Photography Inc
Grand Canyon. Image: Scott Johnson Photography Inc

Very few people need any introduction to the immense natural wonder that is the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. At 1.6 kilometres deep, the inner canyon itself is an awesome sight. The South Rim is open year-round and is the most accessible part of the park, and from the Visitor Center at Mather Point you’ll get your first glimpse of the canyon. Take the village shuttle around the historic district and then hop on the orange route, via the Kaibab Rim Shuttle Bus, for a close-up, and unforgettable, experience with the world-famous Grand Canyon! 

6. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend Caleb Fisher
Big Bend Caleb Fisher

From desert floor to limestone canyons, volcanic dikes to mountain ridges, this park in southwest Texas is not only one of the largest national parks in the US, but also boasts as many ‘bigs’ as the Lone Star State itself! The mighty Rio Grande shares 400 kilometres with the park; the largest desert in the country, the Chihuahuan Desert, borders the park to the south, and the 32 kilometre-long Chisos Mountains are nestled entirely within Big Bend National Park. With thousands of plant species and hundreds of bird species, outdoor adventure and discovery is guaranteed.

7. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Jake Nackos
Arches National Park, Utah

This national park is named for the natural red rock stone arches – over 2,000 of them – that greet visitors to this Utah treasure. Giant, soaring pinnacles seem to glow in their high desert home by day, and create a truly awesome spectacle against the dark night skies. Here you will see the greatest density of natural arches in the world, formed in layers through millions of years, and moulded by nature.

8. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park Utah
Zion National Park, Utah

Located near Springdale in Utah, Zion is noted for being one of the most ‘user-friendly’ national parks in the country and a super shuttle bus system makes it easy to get around and explore. The Human History Museum showcases Zion’s American Indian culture, historic pioneer settlement and national park status. Explore canyons, springs and waterfalls and see just how desert sand dunes, formed hundreds of millions of years ago, became what are now the striking cliffs of Zion National Park.

Enjoy a Day Tour of Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon from Las Vegas

9. Everglades National Park, Florida

An aerial view of the tropical wetlands at Everglades National Park in Florida Image Patrick Farrell and Peter W Cross
An aerial view of the tropical wetlands at Everglades National Park in Florida. Image: Patrick Farrell and Peter W Cross

Hike, bike, boat, bird-watch, fish, canoe and kayak and camp out in the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the US! The park is also the natural habitat for rare and endangered wildlife including the manatee, American crocodile and even the Florida panther, and is a World Heritage-listed site, International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. If you’re lucky you might chance upon turtles, heron, alligators or even a dolphin across the Everglade’s wet sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps or coastal estuaries. 

10. Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Denali National Park bryson beaver
Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska

America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, towers above the snowy mountains in Alaska’s breathtaking Denali Park, which covers 2.4 million hectares of wild Alaskan country. Denali was the first national park in the US to be created with the objective of protecting wildlife and in this sub-Arctic landscape you can just imagine the incredible, and unique, animal and bird-spotting! From caribou and moose to wolves and both grizzly and black bears, and the high mountains Dall sheep, it’s a popular destination for tourists, mostly between late May and early September — and mostly for the wildlife! 

11. Glacier National Park, Montana

A family rafting at Glacier National Park in Montana
A family rafting at Glacier National Park in Montana

Discover forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys in the northwest corner of Montana along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. Home to nearly 70 species of mammals including the grizzly bear, wolverine, gray wolf and lynx and over 270 species of birds including harlequin ducks, dippers and golden eagles, not only is Glacier scenically splendid and packed with outdoor adventures, but it’s also a wildlife-lover’s paradise. 

12. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

The only national park in the US named after a person, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has no buildings, scenic landscapes and a diverse variety of wildlife. The main access to the South Unit is through the historic western town of Medora. Here the Badlands have been shaped by millions of years of wind, rain, erosion, fire and the meandering Little Missouri River. A 58-kilometre scenic loop provides the opportunity to see buffalo, wild horses, deer, coyotes, big horn sheep, prairie dogs and more, with numerous hiking trails.

More Information

Visit: nps.gov

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