You want to hit up some U.S. National Parks but you’re not sure which ones have just the right mix of epic views and kid-friendly activities (with not too much time in the car of course)? I’ve been to 17 U.S. National Parks and these are my favorites for bringing kiddos, even as young as babies and toddlers, along. Welcome to the Best U.S. National Parks to visit with kids.
Best U.S. National Parks to Visit with Kids
Arches National Park
If I had to pick a favorite, Arches would probably tie for first place on my list of best U.S. National Parks to visit with kids (with a park you’ll read about below) for its combination of gorgeous views from everywhere in the park, super fun spots to scramble around on the red rocks, and the feasibility of hiking to some of it’s most iconic features even with kids in tow (or in a carrier).
Why I love it
The arches and the red rock views are jaw-dropping and there is not a single place in the park I’ve found that’s felt dull. The whole drive is incredible. And speaking of…
Driving from one epic place to another in the park won’t take you long. That means more time spent hiking, climbing, and enjoying, than sitting on the road.
There are plenty of kid friendly hikes that range in distance from a short stroll to a few miles and they can all get you to an arch or too! Bonus points because Delicate Arch – one of the park’s most unique places to visit – is doable for many people. It’s about a 3 mile (5km) round trip hike with 600 ft (192m) of elevation gain. It’s pretty special to be able to get to the top tier spots in a park with kiddos.
Kid Friendly Activities
There are tons of fun spots to climb around on the rocks (Double Arch is a favorite) including close to the campgrounds. It’s a kid’s dream. Stop at the visitor’s center on your way in and pick up a Junior Ranger booklet too. My daughter (and I!) have enjoyed every junior ranger program we’ve done; it’s fun to learn more about the park while we’re there, have some written activities to do along the way, and the wooden badge at the end doesn’t hurt.
Proximity to Other Destinations
Arches has a pretty long list of nearby destinations that are very worthy of a visit or a long explore of their own. Here are some of my favorites:
- Canyonlands National Park
- Goblin Valley
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Dead Horse Point State Park
- Further afield you can hit the other of the Big 5 National Parks (Zion NP and Capitol Reef NP)
Visit the Arches NPS website to start planning your visit here.
Yosemite National Park
While I admit I am pretty biased as I grew up 3 hours from Yosemite and I worked outside the park for a summer and spent many off days hiking some of it’s most epic trails, Yosemite NP ties with Arches for my favorite National Park to take kiddos. It’s clinching points are the views of some of the most iconic landscapes in the world (like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls), the range of kid-friendly activities and hikes available, and the water play too.
Why I love it
Yosemite Valley is one of my favorite views of all time. The granite walls and the scattered evergreen pine trees never get old or less impressive, no matter how many times I’ve soaked them in.
Since Yosemite is so big, the drive into the park and then into the Valley (where a lot of the good stuff is) admittedly isn’t great. If you stay outside the park, it can mean a 30+ minute drive into the park each day. But if you’re staying in the park – which I highly recommend – then you’ll find many of the places you want to go are relatively close to each other. Yosemite Valley gets a lot of traffic though so park in the morning and bring bikes to get around if you can.
There are plenty of kid friendly hikes to waterfalls and epic view points.
Kid Friendly Activities
Yosemite has a surprisingly diverse number of activities outside of hiking. They include:
- Paddling or floating the Merced River
- Finding the natural rock slide
- Walking through a redwood tree
- Playing along the river
- Biking around the trails in the valley
- Drinking from a spring of naturally carbonated water
- Rock climbing lessons
Visit the Yosemite National Park webpage to start planning your visit here.
Joshua Tree National Park
The landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is quite unique; I haven’t been anywhere else like it. This park makes my list of best U.S. national parks for kids because of it’s laid back manner. It is relatively flat which means easy access to points of interest for kiddos and it is covered in rocks great for both kid scrambling and top rope climbing. And, importantly to me, the iconic park features are accessible with kids.
Why I love it
Joshua tree has some really special plants, including that for which it was named. My dad lived in the desert for a long time when I was growing up, so I am extra fond of the plants that fend for themselves, as desert plants do. The park is well labeled and its easy to learn to identify some of the main plants and then point them out with kiddos.
The driving isn’t too bad, though there isn’t much else to see around the park.
The park is relatively flat which makes for kid-friendly hikes and there are a ton of great rocks for climbing along the way. Plus you can see the park’s most iconic features with kiddos along.
The BLM camping just outside the park is super convenient to both the highway and the park. There are also some really cool AirBnB’s and other accommodations nearby for a more upscale experience.
Visit the Joshua Tree National Park webpage to start planning your visit here.
Mount Rainier National Park
We visited in September and had the best time enjoying the mountain from all angles and picking wild huckleberries as we walked! Hunting for berries really kept the kids engaged and happy on the hike, thus it’s spot on my list of best U.S. national parks for kids.
Why I love it
I’m a sucker for a snow-capped peak, and Mt. Rainier peeks at you from many angles in the park.
We found the drive to be reasonable, though it’s a bit of a bummer – though understandable – that some of the best features are on opposite sides of the park and you have to drive the hour or so around the mountain to get between. There are plenty of points of interest for breaks along the way.
There are plenty of kid friendly hikes with views of the mountain, plus a couple waterfall and river views.
We loved the free BLM camping our friends showed us nearby. It was near a gorgeous rushing river with lots of fun spots to play and animal tracks to identify.
Visit the Mount Rainier National Park webpage to start planning your visit here.
Death Valley National Park
I was surprised how much I enjoyed Death Valley! The sunsets were incredible and it had a more diverse landscape for exploring than I anticipated.
Why I love it
Mesquite Flat Dunes was a huge favorite. We had a blast playing in the sand and (trying to) slide down the dunes on sleds. If you try it I highly recommend you wax your sled; it’s not as easy as it seemed. Bring some sand toys, enjoy the sunset, and walk out as little or as long as you like.
The Diverse hikes
Within an hour’s drive you can play at the dunes, hike a slot canyon, experience the lowest point in the U.S. and hike amongst the colors of the Artist’s Palette. All are kid-friendly and some include some fun climbing around.
I’m always looking for fun destinations that are best outside of summer and DV fits the bill. We visited in November and the weather was just perfectly cool. Summer temperatures often reach 120°F (49°C) and the park is best visited in late autumn, winter, and early spring.
Visit the Death Valley National Park webpage to start planning your visit here.