With Earth Day on the horizon and the sun lingering longer, it’s the ideal season to discover America’s national parks with your family. IgoUgo members recommend 10 parks for reconnecting with nature and your kids.
Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
Maui’s (dormant) volcanic apex offers something for everyone, from a 10,000-foot crater summit for hardcore hikers to Junior Ranger opportunities for young visitors. Or you can have a relaxing visit à la Chicago_Dave, whose group opted to hang back and “let their eyes (instead of their feet) walk over the scenery.” One thing is certain: there’s plenty for the eyes to do here at the “House of the Sun,” including checking out “dazzling, multi-colored lava.”
Yosemite National Park, California
Visitors agree that Yosemite, in any season, is “God’s country”—or at least the hallowed ground of John Muir and Ansel Adams. Foxboro Marmot goes one green step further, calling the park the “Holy Grail of the environmental movement.” Boasting the world’s largest granite monolith (El Capitan) and the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove, it’s no wonder IgoUgo members are full of superlatives when it comes to Yellowstone.
Everglades National Park, Florida
For guaranteed “oohs” and “aahs” from your kids, creekland says to head for the Everglades’ Anhinga Trail, where “you will literally see an alligator every 20 feet (or less), at least in the dry season.” Another can’t-miss activity on this “river of grass” is a ride on an airboat for an up-close look at alligators, manatees, and more.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Whether your family plans on seeing the Grand Canyon by helicopter, train, mule, foot, or all four, prepare to be amazed. As Craig Randall (who made the trek with a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a father-in-law) says, “It stuns with its size, magnitude, and serenity all at once.” His party hopped the Grand Canyon Railway for a mock shootout and scenic trip, a Canyon staple proven to thrill kids and adults alike.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Families cheer Acadia’s “bike trails for all ages” and “forest that seems to come right to the end of the sandy beach.” The lobster here on Mount Desert Island draws raves, too, as do the kayaking and canoeing. Hold off for a fall visit if you want to see why Myndo says, “Acadia National Park is one of the reasons I always get wanderlust for New England in autumn.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
For some southern hospitality with your wildlife adventure, head to this park straddling Tennessee and North Carolina. Kids love to picnic, wade, and fish amid the park’s waterfalls and coves, and you may even meet the families for which this park is famous; southern girl reports, “several times, we have seen bears with their cubs.”
Arches National Park, Utah
IgoUgo members call this “wonderland” everything from a “geologist’s dream” to a “photographer’s paradise.” Regular old visitors are just as delighted here, though, and Jeffrey says that “the park is well-organized and accessible, so even short, easy hikes are extremely rewarding.” Perfect for short legs and attention spans.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Take one step into this park and you’ll know why the Rockies are synonymous with beauty. Visitors hail the “bugling elk,” “towering mountains,” and “crystal-clear streams” as components of the “perfect” family vacation. The only thing up for debate is which area of the park is most perfect; is it Bear Lake, the “cleanest, purist lake” American91 has ever seen? Or is it Alberta Falls, a “perfect, convenient hike for any traveler, especially families?” You be the judge.
Volcano National Park, Hawaii
Moonscape on the Big Island? Your kids will be sold! For a real out-of-this-world show, return to the park at night; creekland and company went on a night hike here and say that “seeing lava at night is simply incredible, so it is well worth it.” Another high point for visitors is when you can see “lava flowing into the ocean” and smoke rising into the air.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
For history and snorkeling in one day, you can’t beat Dry Tortugas. Arrive by ferry or seaplane (book Seaplanes of Key West’s 2pm trip, “without a doubt,” advises mtemail and family), and venture underwater to see “an array of coral and fish literally using every color in the 64-crayon packs.” Then it’s time for a history lesson at Fort Jefferson, where the kids will love “running free in the grass fields within the fort.” Day-trippers, head back to Key West and relax. If you haven’t had enough, just stay on-island and set up camp.