Do you dream of exploring some of the amazing National Parks of the United States with your family?
Many of us have fond memories or exciting dreams when it comes to visiting the National Parks. But actually planning and executing a fabulous trip to one of the National Parks can be quite daunting! What activities/hikes would work best for your children? Where would you stay? What would you eat?
How can you set your family up for the sort of fun adventures and memory-making that you have in mind?
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the United States National Parks system, Power of Moms Co-Director, Saren Eyre Loosli and her family along with four other families spent a full month last summer visiting the original 12 National Parks that were linked up by the old Park to Park Highway. It was an epic 6000 mile adventure!
At each of the 12 parks they visited, Saren worked with others in the group to document what they saw and did through writing, photographs and videos. Drawing from these materials and from ideas solicited from our Power of Moms audience of almost a million moms, Saren has compiled a guide that shares overall tips for making family trips to National Parks wonderful plus details on the best things for families to do at each of the parks visited.
This exciting new “National Park Guide for Families” is now available! Information on some the parks is complete but we’re still putting the finishing touches on a few parts of the guide. Sign up now and you’ll have lifetime access to the guide which we’ll be polishing and expanding.
Thanks to the help of generous sponsors, we are able offer this guide FOR FREE for a limited time. So sign up right away!
*** CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP ***
Guides for all the parks listed below are included in the guide as well as overall tips and ideas that apply to visiting any National Park.
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Crater Lake National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- General Grant National Park (now Kings Canyon National Park)
- Sequoia National Park
- Zion National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
(And we’ll hopefully be creating more guides covering more National Parks and family vacation ideas in the future!)
*** As we will be continually adding to this guide, we invite you to let us know YOUR favorite activities and any tips or ideas you care to share when it comes to visiting any of the National Parks listed below. Simply type in your suggestions for the best activities/hikes for families (indicate what ages of children, level of difficulty, what you get to see and do) as well as camping/packing/picnicking tips in the comment section below.
Rachel Nielson says
This is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of. Wow. I want to do this someday!!
That sounds like an awesome month! Looking forward to this guide.
Hope you can include Grand Teton National Park in a future edition! It’s my favorite & very family friendly.
Yes, so far Grand Tetons is my favorite in the West – majestic!!! One day ya’ll need to get to the south and see Great Smoky National Park. Beautiful – different than the rugged, vast west, but majestic in its own right and beautiful hikes. In June you can see (have to get tickets) to see the Synchronized Fireflies – one of the most amazing things I have seen yet, very magical!!!
Saren Eyre Loosli says
We’ll definitely have to get out to Great Smokey one of these days. The firefly thing sounds like something we’ve got to see.
Saren Eyre Loosli says
I love the Tetons too! We’ll have to add a section on Grand Teton National Park when we get a chance. For this trip, we’re just sticking with the original 12 in the west as we follow the exact route of the old Park to Park Highway.
I LOVE this. My kids are ages 15-5 and are good hikers. We just went to Zion’s National Park. We only had one day in the park. FYI- You can no longer drive yourself through the park. You have to take a shuttle.
So- my suggestion for a nice hike is to go to the Weeping Rock shuttle stop and hike to Observation Point. It is about 8 miles round trip. Other options are a short walk to Weeping Rock (we didn’t do that) and also Hidden Canyon. We did half of Hidden Canyon on our way down. This hike requires you to hold on to chains because the trail is sloped. Here is a link to my blog post about it with pictures!http://brownology.blogspot.com/2016/03/zions-park.html
I’m so jealous I can hardly stand it. I can’t wait to read about this!
OK. And here is my post from driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. We were on our way home from Golden CO to UT and took a long route to drive through the park. We weren’t able to get out and do any hiking because we were in a time crunch. But seriously, just stopping at the viewing areas was breath taking.
I hope you have so much fun!
And here I am again – I found some “notes to self” from when we went to Yellowstone way back in 2008. Note to Self:
Book a hotel room earlier than 1 hour outside of West Yellowstone. Otherwise there may only be one room available and it will cost somewhere between expensive and way too expensive.
Plan for more time. That way, you will probably use your $25 – 7 day pass for more than 7 Hours! But it was a great 7 hours. Hundreds of bison, elk, mule deer, lots of canadian geese, raven, squirrels, etc. Beautiful country, amazing falls at Canyon Village. Ahhh…nature.
Bring binnoculars so you can see what everyone else is looking at.
Next time, drive the upper loop as well.
Next time, hike to upper falls at Canyon village.
Next time, bright and early, head out to Hayden Valley to see larger animals.
On the way home, bring swimsuits and maybe swim at the city park in Blackfoot, Idaho. Just for fun.
And sometime before you die, you really should hike to the bottom of the GrandCanyon, camp over night and hike back out the next morning. Rim to Rim. It works best if you have hiking buddies that hike in from the opposite rim, trade keys with them at the bottom, then get in their car when you hike out and meet somewhere in the middle. You need a permit to do this though so you need to plan ahead!
And I’m finally done. No more comments. Good luck!
Saren Eyre Loosli says
Thank you SO MUCH for your great tips and ideas! We’ll definitely incorporate them into our trip and our guide. Let us know anything else you think of.
Sarah Monson says
Wow!!! Sounds like the trip of a lifetime!
We love the National Parks and did many of them last year. Definitely get a National Park Passport – we have 1 for us the parents and each of the kids have their own junior passport. We list the dates, what we saw and get the official park stamp in each of their books. It’s a great memory journal of our travels and hopefully the children will enjoy looking back on their adventures as adults.
Each park also has a Junior Ranger Program (typically free) for kids to participate and earn their Junior Ranger Badge. Really fun and a great learning tool. But be advised, some take a while to do them so get them at the very beginning of the trip at the visitor center and work on them throughout your park stay. If you will only be there one day, start early in the day or print them off online and start working on them in the car before you get there. I have set up a National Park Binder for each of my children with the Park’s beautiful map/guide (get 1 for each child), their junior ranger booklet and pictures. They also have an amazing collection of badges.
One last thing we do (we love traditions) is we go to the visitor center’s bookstore and buy the Park’s Patch (think of a Boy Scout’s Merit Badge) or magnet for the fridge. Another great memory maker to help us remember our amazing adventures.
If you haven’t done so – watch Ken Burn’s National Parks Documentary – you will have a greater appreciation for our beautiful Landmarks and the visionary men/women (like John Muir) who helped preserve them.
Saren Eyre Loosli says
Such great ideas! We’ve done the Junior Ranger program a time or two before – thanks for reminding me about that. And I love the idea of getting a special souvenir from each park. We’ll have to do that for sure. We’ll definitely watch the documentary you suggested. We watched the new National Parks IMAX and it was good but left me wanting more.
I am excited to hear you are doing a National Parks tour. How fun! I grew up on hwy 89 between Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyons so I have a love of all of them. Bryce would be worth putting into your trip as it is close to Zion.
You can drive all the way through Zion, but there is one canyon that you have to ride a shuttle. Parking for the shuttle can be kind of crazy as Zion is always busy, but there are a few parking lots inside of Zion and a small one close to the canyon that the shuttle goes up. Be sure and bring plenty of water to drink. My favorite hike is Angels Landing, but I would not suggest that one if you have small children. It is long and has steep drop offs. Emerald Pools is beautiful and only a short hike. Weeping Rock is an easy hike for little kids. There is a spring that leaks out of overhanging rocks that you can go under. Also, if your kids are hot and wanting to cool off, the river below Weeping rock is a great place to play.
If you choose not to ride the shuttle, you can drive through the park and stop at the Zion overlook just outside of the mile long tunnel, its a short hike and gives you an amazing view of the park.
You can stop on any pull out and let your kids climb the hills and explore. Checkerboard Mesa it fun to look at. Don’t leave Zion without driving through the 2 tunnels. Your kids will love them. (The shuttle only goes up one side canyon in Zion, that is the only part of Zion you can not drive through yourself. The rest of the park is open to driving through from west entrance to east entrance.)
If you are lucky you will see the big horned sheep in Zion.
The North Rim of Grand Canyon is not as commercialized as the South which is nice because you don’t have to deal with as many people. Bright Angel point is my favorite hike on the North Rim. If you don’t want to hike, the mule ride down is always fun.
My family owns a vacation rental in Glendale Utah which is North of Zion on hwy 89 between Bryce and Zion. Grand Canyon is only a day trip away from there. I’m not sure if you are planning on traveling on 89, but if you are interested, we would like to offer you a free 2 night stay at Pinkie’s Place. It is a newly remodeled 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath home. If you are interested, let me know as soon as possible so I can block it out on the schedule. https://www.facebook.com/Pinkies-Place-196141290757046/
Yellowstone is a favorite park of my family also. We love Mammoth especially in the fall when the elk are in the town. When we go, we rent a vacation rental home in West Yellowstone as we feel it is cheaper than renting a hotel because we split the cost with family. Renting a house gives you the oppurtuntiy to cook some meals and not feel like you have to eat out every night. I would suggest looking at Vacation Rentals by Owner https://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/montana/yellowstone/west-yellowstone
Hopefully something here helps.
Be sure and go see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as well. It is beautiful.
Brenley Burton says
All 4th graders have the opportunity to get a free National Parks pass for their family through “everykidinapark.gov”
It is extremely easy to sign up and you simply have to print a copy of your “receipt” and show it (with your 4th grader) at the entrance booth to a National Park. They will then give you your own National Park pass/card that you can use for the entire year.
The pass is good for the 4th grade school year through the summer (for example, if your child is in 4th grade 2015-2016, your family can use the pass until August 2016). The pass is good for your entire car load!!
Saren Eyre Loosli says
Darn it! My youngest kids (my twins) are now in 5th grade. Too bad we didn’t do this trip last year! But I’m so glad to know about this so that we can share this excellent information in the guide.
All Active Duty military (and I think emergency workers) can get free passes every year as well. We use ours a lot, and I love that you are doing this- it is my dream!
Susie Fox says
Yellowstone, only at the Old Faithful Visitors Center, has a “Young Scientist” program for kids ages 5 and older. It costs $5 each. There are 3 different age levels of programs. Once you complete the requirements you earn a patch or a keychain, depending on the age of the child. The best part about it is that you can check out a toolkit to help you learn about the geological features of the park including an infrared thermometer that you point towards the geyser or hot pot and measure the temperature of it. There are a variety of backpack toolkits, but we preferred the one with the thermometer over the others.
This is so fun. I love the National Parks. A great place to stay between Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks is on hwy 89 at Pinkie’s Place https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/12918329 or https://www.vrbo.com/812122 it is a beautifully update home located centrally between Zion and Bryce.
So my family just visited several national parks on our summer trek from Texas to Utah last month. We love National Parks! Mesa Verde was among those we visited. We only spent one day there as we were kind of passing through. I just wanted to say if you have more than one day to spend then it is wise to purchase tickets for ranger guided tours a day or two in advance if you can (this must be done in person). We were not able to go on any ranger guided tours of Cliff Palace or Balcony House because they were all sold out by the time we got to the visitors center (about 11:00 a.m. and maybe that was a good thing for us because some of my kids are still pretty young), but if you want to go on a ranger guided tour then it is wise to get there early or get tickets a day ahead–at least during the busy summer months. Also, the trail down to Spruce Tree House (which I remember hiking as a kid) is closed due to danger of falling rocks. . .still, my family and I had fun exploring the park and seeing mesa-top dwellings as well as the amazing cliff dwellings (from a distance). Have fun!
Tamara N. says
A family after my own heart!!! My husband and I are avid outdoors people and are passing on that love to our kids. I took them on an 8 national parks and monuments vacation last summer, and this year (we had less time) and visited 4 national parks and one state park. I’d be happy to give feedback if you want to contact me via email, I have been to most of those parks.
Zion is my absolute favorite. I have been there through all seasons, on adult trips and with my littles. From an adult perspective my favorite adventures have been Angels Landing and backpacking to Kolob Arch in the northern entrance. A nice moderate hike is the Canyon Overlook close to the tunnel, and we love the Emerald Pools. If you hike the Pools in the spring a billion frogs come out to play and sing at dusk. It is fantastic. Weeping rock is an easy stop.
And I would also recommend the hike to the mouth of the Narrows. With good shoes and a walking stick you can go up a mile or so up the river to find swimming holes and rock jumping. My 9 year old did this with my husband. At the beginning of the trail leading to the Narrows, you will see a few “river access” signs/trails. These are fantastic spots for little kids to play. (Ah, who am I kidding?? Big kids too!) I took my youngest kids there to splash, throw rocks, enjoy a small waterfall… We had a great time with massive red cliffs surrounding us to one side and a sandy bank on the other.
If you are in the Zion area I really recommend Bryce Canyon, the Coral Sand Dunes State Park on the way to Kanab, and Snow Canyon out of St. George. In Kanab we also took a tour last summer to hike a slot canyon and then go to a site with tons of dinosaur footprints. It was fantastic!!
Last year we hit Mesa Verde and loved it!!! I could write another novel about that adventure, but I feel like I am writing too much, lol.
I live in Wawona, Yosemite and would highly suggest the Sentinel Dome hike, on the way to Glacier Point. It is a very doable hike with your kids age group (my 5 year old can do it…although it usually includes some complaining and a piggy back ride for part of the way) and offers an unparalleled 360 degree view of Yosemite. It’s a must do hike—especially if you don’t have a whole lot of time in Yosemite—because you get to see so much! Here’s the direct link to the hike on Yosemite website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/glacierhikes.htm.
Which is another suggestion I have, which I’m sure you’re probably already doing, but take advantage of the National Park website (this links you to Yosemite: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/index.htm). Not only does it have loads of info and suggestions on hikes, must see places, etc., it also includes alerts and need to know info, if something is going on that you should be aware of.
Keep in mind, that Yosemite is VERY busy this time of year. Be prepared to wait! It may take a long time to get in at the entrance and parking in Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point may be full. This is more true during the weekends than mid-week so hopefully you’ll be here during the week. Be patient, watch out for other drivers and use turnouts to let others pass by, if need be. It can get pretty crazy sometimes, so be careful.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but I think it’s important to mention to anyone visiting Yosemite. When hiking, stay on trail and be very careful when & where you decide to swim in the river. NEVER swim near a waterfall (no matter how calm it looks or how good a swimmer you are), be extremely cautious and use life vests in ANY area for kids or anyone that isn’t a proficient swimmer. Tragically, Yosemite reports several drownings every year…most of which could have been completely avoided. Although this isn’t fun information, I think it is extremely important for visitors to be mindful of this, especially if you are creating a guide to the parks. The National Parks are beautiful, majestic and WILD. Enjoy all they have to offer, but keep a healthy fear and respect of the nature you are experiencing!
On a totally separate note, if you need a washing machine and dryer while in Yosemite, mine are open to you! 🙂 Have a wonderful visit!!
Miranda Sheldon says
I can’t wait to read your guide when it’s all put together! We live near Sacramento and LOVE spending time in the parks! We visited Yosemite last year in the spring, and Lassen in the fall with our 3 kids (then ages 5, 7, & 9). We entered Lassen from the south, and stopped at the Visitor Center first–they have an interactive map of the park and explanation of what makes Lassen unique–it’s one of the few places in the world where you can find all four types of volcanoes in one location. If you like to just sit back and absorb nature, then enjoy the drive through the park with its amazing views (and no crowds!!) If you like to learn more about what you are looking at, you can pick up a booklet from the visitor center called “auto tours, trips & trails.” Set your odometer to 0 as you are leaving the center, and the guide will explain what you are seeing at certain mileage points along the route. The first stop (there’s a small parking lot), called the Sulphur Works, is so neat–you can get VERY close to the bubbling mudpots–they were spewing mud out onto the boardwalk railing when we were there. The 3 mile roundtrip hike to Bumpass Hell was definitely worth it to see the steaming fumaroles and hot springs. Chaos Jumbles at the northern end of the park is a surreal landscape of boulders everywhere from an avalanche 350 years ago. Outside of the north end of the park (but still within Lassen National Forest) you can take a self-guided tour of the Subway Cave, which is a lava tube about 1/3 mile long–the floor of the tube is very uneven and you can see the grooves formed by the lava as it cooled and hardened. It is about 45 degrees inside the cave all year. Have a great time!!
[email protected] says
If you have a current 4th grader or one next year, he/she can get the family into ALL national parks, lands and waters for FREE. We went to Zion, Bryce, Kolab, and the Uintah’s this summer, without having to pay the park fees 🙂 It’s a government program called Every Kid In a Park, and the website is:
It was super easy for my fourth grader to apply (Maybe 5 minutes) and she felt so special at the parks when the ranger would ask to see her card and give her the maps. Hope this helpful!
This is SO amazing! I’m so excited for you, Saren! My family has really been wanting to do something like this or maybe broken up into sections but we just haven’t figured out the best way to do it. I don’t have recommendations for where to go but I do have requests for the guide! My kids are 3, 5, and 10. So the age gap is a real challenge. The 10 year old is ready to do things and the littles are not. I have been told to not even bother bringing the little kids because they can’t do so many of the amazing things there are to do. So please please pretty please add in information for people with younger children or people with a larger age range in their family. Oh boy, I have so many questions I can’t even type them all here. But I would also love it if you could try to break your trip up into sections. Like if you only have a week, do these 2 parks. If you have 10 days, consider these 3. If you have 2 weeks, try these 4 that are relatively close together. Etc. We’ve also considered renting an RV and doing the trip in that. If you get the chance to interview any of the RV’ers at the parks to give info on how that goes, especially if you fly out somewhere and rent the RV, sight unseen, that would be so helpful! I will definitely be buying your guide when it comes out! Thank you so much for doing it!!!!!!! xoxoxoxo
Tricia Paoluccio says
Wow. This guide is going in my SOMEDAY file immediately. I would love to plan a trip like this with my family!!! I love reading about John Muir and we love to pretend to be pioneers up at my mom’s cabin (bringing a little canteen of water, a piece of chocolate and a cracker! Like Muir!)….I am not a great trip planner so will love to learn from you best place to start and end…or maybe thats what the highway does! 🙂 And where the best places are to stay in a hotel and where is it best to rough it! And how much a trip like this would cost per person on average so we could save our money for it.
BTW your IG link doesnt seem to work Saren. I’ll try on my Iphone looking your name up to follow you but the one above when I clicked says: page unavailable.
K Dahle says
Love the treasures that are our National Parks! My kids have loved doing the junior ranger program at the many parks we’ve visited. They learn new information and it keeps them engaged and looking forward to visiting different areas of the park
Camping: With many of the National Parks you need to reserve your camping spot months in advance. For the best spots like in the Yosemite Valley you better be online the second reservations open. Sometimes you luck out and get it a cancellation last minute
Glacier: (by the way the picture of Glacier in the graphic is actually Moraine Lake in Banff NP in Canada- worth the jaunt from Glacier NP) –
Hikes- Hidden Lake Overlook- 2.8 miles RT, many mountain goats within feet off the trail, ends at an incredible observation point
St. Mary Falls- 1.6 miles RT- easy hike to beautiful falls
Yosemite- Hikes- Mist Trail to Vernal Falls- 3 miles RT- good amount of elevation gain but worth it. Took kids as young as 5 hiking and carried younger ones.
Mariposa Grove- hike to tunnel carved through tree
Glacier Point- Incredible observation point
Zion- Hikes- Temple of Sinawava and explore up the Narrows if water levels are safe and your kids are capable
Canyon Overlook Trail- 1 mile RT- keep young kids close as there are steep drop offs but incredible views
Upper Pine Creek Canyon- easy but not an established trail- Can explore the Upper part of the narrow canyon before it descends past the tunnel into the technical section of Lower Pine Creek
Kari Voorhees says
Great idea!! I’ve been to Crater, Lassen, Zion, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia, Would love to provide input if needed. Just contact me and let me know what information you would find helpful.
Our all time favorite campground is Hume Lake in Sequoia!!! Such an amazing spot.
I would love to get some tips on Mt. Rainer Nat’l Park. We are going Friday and will only have one day. What were your favorites there? Thank you!!
Is this guide available now?
Saren Eyre Loosli says
It’ll be available this spring in full and I’ll be posting sections as they are finished – it’s quite a project!
Christina J says
How about now? 🙂 Thank you so much for working on this project and making it available to families!!
The Family Voyage says
Thank you for sharing this beautiful guide! Our closest park is Joshua Tree and we’ve taken our kids several times. Check out our guide to Joshua Tree with kids! http://www.thefamilyvoyage.com/joshua-tree-with-kids/
I signed up to get the guide, but I have searched and searched and can’t find it! I followed the link in my email and logged in. Please help! Thanks!
How do I get access to this guide?
I have registered and activated the guide. But I don’t see it on your site.
Is there a link to the guide? Or a certain place I need to look?
Andrea Davis says
Hi Cyndi, Please email us at: [email protected] and we’ll get you taken care of. Sorry about that!
Me too. I haven’t been able to find it! I’ll send an email as well