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Visiting America’s National Parks: A Fun, Educational, and Inexpensive Family Vacation


National parks are places of awe-inspiring beauty, majestic vistas, and up-close encounters with animals; the perfect family getaway from a very wired world

Since the first public lands were set aside for Yellowstone in 1872, people from all over the world have been enjoying the spectacular natural heritage of America’s National Parks. Hundreds of unique parks to choose from providing plenty of inexpensive, family vacation ideas.

Getting to the National Parks

As National Parks are mainly located in wilderness areas, getting there often involves flying and then driving some distance. Many parks are accessible by public transportation, and an increasing number offer free shuttle buses that travel within the park.

Food and Lodging in the National Parks

Most national parks in the U.S. have at least one lodge with the main dining room and more casual options for food, including a store where you can purchase groceries and other items. Accommodation choices usually include a room in the lodge, a cabin, or a tent site: Some parks also offer tent cabins.

Lodging for some of the more popular national parks needs to be arranged well in advance, particularly for travel during summer. It is usually possible to book a hotel or motel right outside the park; This option, however, can add as much as an hour’s drive from the motel to the main activity center of the park.

Which National Park to Choose for a Family Vacation

Families with babies who are content carried in a front pack or toddlers who love travelling in a backpack child carrier; can choose just about any national park, according to the preferences and hiking abilities of the parents. When travelling with children who can walk on their own, however, parents need to match their children’s capabilities with the length of the hikes offered in each park.

All children are more likely to enjoy hikes that have dramatic payoffs, such as seeing a glacier in Glacier National Park, a geyser in Yellowstone, or a live volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

The best place to learn about the natural resources, activities, and programmes at each park is the official National Parks website. This site also gives info crucial to trip planning, such as how to view wild animals within the park safely, what precautions to take on a hike, and which park entrance may be closed part of the year due to snow.

Child-Friendly Hiking Accessories

Pre-schoolers who confidently walk on their own (and rarely in a straight line without stopping numerous times) might be more willing to go on a hike if they are given tools that complement their natural curiosity. A perfect trail-walking accessory is a pair of small, plastic binoculars. Another is a laminated Pocket Natural Animal Tracks guide (available from the Visitor’s Center or Waterford Press) for identifying the tracks and scat of animals.

Children’s Programmes in the National Parks

America’s National Parks have plenty of things to do with kids; A number of their programmes are specifically developed for children including:

The Junior Ranger Program–Helps children aged 5 to 12 learn about the resources and ecology of the national parks. Those who complete the 12-page activity book and other tasks are awarded a Junior Ranger patch.
Young Scientist Program – Awards students ages five and up a patch or key chain for completing certain activities.
Web Rangers – An online program with games and stories about nature and animals.

In addition, each park offers free, ranger-led programs of varying lengths, some specifically developed for children. Check the respective park’s website for their offerings and a schedule. Some of the parks offer additional, child-oriented programs. Yosemite, for example, also offers Wee Wild Ones, an interactive program for pre-schoolers; Story Time for kids seven and under; and Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure; a free, interactive, theatrical experience.

Although not specifically intended for children, the spiral-bound Passport to your National Parks travelogue has plenty of info, maps, and photos of every national park property in the US. Parents should purchase a book for each child, who will enjoy getting an official cancellation stamp in the Visitor Center of each national park they visit. This precious keepsake will help families enjoy the parks long after the end of their visit.

America’s National Parks Make Great Family Vacation Ideas

No matter which incredible park you choose, families can enjoy a healthy, inexpensive, family-friendly holiday at America’s National Parks.

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