The Best National Parks for Families

The Best National Parks for Families

The 63 American National Parks are iconic, with incredible mountain peaks, coastal beaches, huge forests, river valleys, prairies, expansive desert landscapes covered with canyons and mesas, and tropical paradises. While all the parks are amazing in their own way, not all are easily accessible. When planning a family trip to the parks, one should consider which are easiest to get to (and which are easiest to get around in).

We reviewed our files, photos, writings, research (and, of course, our poster art) to create a list of the most accessible National Parks.

The Best National Parks to Visit with Kids

Roads, infrastructure, established campsites and lodging, ranger-led resources, Junior Ranger programming, diverse activities, and indoor facilities to cool off or warm up are all factors that make a National Park perfect for children. When planning a family summer vacation, it's better to choose parks that are more suited to youngsters and easier to get to (instead of carting the young ones to the Arctic Circle or distant islands).

From our research, we found that the vast majority of the 63 National Parks are great for family vacations, but we narrowed it down to the 10 best National Parks to visit with kids.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Visible for miles in every direction, Mount Rainier is one of the tallest mountains in the United States. It is just 60 miles from Seattle and even closer to other major urban areas.

The Paradise entry point is the perfect spot for families to start their vacation in the park, as it has direct access to the child-friendly 1.8-mile Alta Vista Trail. The nearby Paradise Inn provides accessible lodging, and the park's many activities and ranger-led programs keep kids entertained day after day.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

This National Park is an instant favorite among youngsters. The twisted, spiky trees resemble something from a Dr. Seuss book, and the granite boulders beckon youths to climb. Joshua Tree National Park is easily accessible from several urban centers, and lodging is available in nearby communities, including at Autocamp, a glamping establishment with modified Airstream trailers.

Families typically access the park via the north entrance (Twentynine Palms) or the west entrance (Joshua Tree). The Hidden Valley Trail is the perfect one-mile loop for kiddos, as it doesn't take long to navigate, is well-established, and has plenty of rock formations for a good-natured scramble.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

The most-visited national park on the roster, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well-established and has the infrastructure families need for a safe, relaxing trip. The park has multiple visitor centers, any of which can get youngsters started on the Junior Ranger program. Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the park, is an instant favorite for children.

Popular waterfalls like Laurel, Rainbow, and Grotto are all relatively easy to access, especially if families come prepared with good hiking shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, snacks, and water. The communities near the park all offer varying types of lodging, with the Stony Brook Cabins being an instant favorite for longer, relaxation-focused stays.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is so mesmerizing and incredible that it's one park children will never forget, a place where childhood memories are made, memories that stay with them for decades to come.

Plus, the park has child-focused activities, like guides offered by the nonprofit Field Institute that teach children how to recognize fossils and collect pinyon pine nuts. The park also has bicycle rentals with tandem options for especially small children, and the nearby Under Canvas glamping organization provides unique and fun lodging options.

Acadia National Park, Maine

While Acadia National Park is quite remote, once one gets there, it's smooth sailing to enjoy the gem of the Northeast with the whole family.

From tide pools to accessible mountain peaks you can drive a car to, the whole park is a child's playground. The nearby Claremont hotel was built in 1884 but renovated in 2022, meaning it has a vintage aesthetic but all the modern amenities children enjoy.

Glacier National Park, Montana

One of the most popular parks on the roster, Glacier National Park has several child-friendly hiking options, including the Trail of Cedars, just under a mile long and largely contained to a flat, maintained boardwalk.

There are also beginner-friendly horseback rides and other family-friendly hiking trails. Though Glacier is also remote, its popularity means plenty of kid-friendly lodging options, including the Grouse Mountain Lodge.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is within a day's drive from Denver, meaning families can choose plenty of options for lodging and access to the park. The Bear Lake Trail in the park is an easy half-mile stroll, and the scenic Trail Ridge Road is a real beauty that children can enjoy from the comfort and safety of the car.

The park is also home to elk, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, and marmots, all of which children enjoy seeing. The 200-room Limelight Hotel is an excellent lodging option with amenities and modern facilities.

Redwoods National and State Parks, California

The redwoods are similar to the Grand Canyon in that they inspire children's minds and imaginations and create lasting memories. The park has well-established and well-maintained roads and trail systems, including Founders Grove and the Rockefeller Loop.

Because the park is near the Pacific Ocean, beach access is never more than a few minutes away. Carter House Inns provides excellent lodging options. There are several campgrounds in the park, too.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is an accessible Appalachian gem less than a day's drive from Washington, D.C., and other East Coast cities. Families take their children to Blackroad Summit for a short 1.1-mile hike. Lands Run Falls provides spectacular views.

Skyline Drive, a scenic byway, runs through the park, providing incredible views in all directions. The nearby town of Charlottesville offers many lodging options, including the Draftsman. That town has great dining and shopping options, too.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is so unique, interesting, and visually stunning that children who visit it often say it feels like they're on another planet. Several accessible and short hikes include the Rim Trail, Mossy Cove, and Bristlecone Loop.

Last but not least, the park is a registered International Dark Sky Park, meaning youngsters who get permission to stay up late will see some of the best night skies available and can spot constellations and even the Milky Way. Locally operated, Under Canvas's Bryce Canyon offers fun and immersive glamping opportunities for the whole family.

A Summer in the 63 National Parks

Some National Parks may be more accessible than others, but all are incredible and special in their own way. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog on how best to enjoy the most popular National Parks during peak summer visitation!

Until next time,

-Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer

Older Post Newer Post

Sign up for our weekly email and get 10% off your first order.