As we were driving home after a month of camping and visiting 12 national parks, I passed my laptop around in the car and asked each of our children to type in their favorite parts of the trip as well as any general advice they would give to families visiting national parks. It was great to see what they wrote!
I’m sharing what they wrote in this guide because it will hopefully help you get a sense of what kids of different ages and personalities might find most interesting when visiting national parks plus give you ideas of which parks your family might enjoy the most.
Here’s what they wrote (pretty much un-edited):
Oliver (age 11)
My favorite park was Mesa Verde National Park.
I loved how there was a lot of houses that you could see and learn about, also I liked the Sun Temple and how when you looked at it from above, the outer layer looked like a maze. Another thing I liked about Mesa Verde national park was the 4-story square tower that was still standing in one of the cliff villages. The last two things I liked about it was Cliff Palace and Balcony House. What I liked about them (balcony house was my favorite) was that you could go through tunnels one of them I had to crawl through (Balcony House) and climb up ladders, I also like the balustrade buying guide they showed me at the end, one day I would like to have a similar construction done in my house. (both)
I also really liked the Panarama Hike at Yosemite. We took this bus up to the top and then spent a whole day walking down and got to visit lots of waterfalls plus there were two places with natural waterslides that were so fun.
I’m glad we did this trip because I had the experience to see the most awesome things in my whole life.
For families visiting national parks, I suggest that you BRING YOUR SWIMMING SUIT on pretty much every hike so you can swim in rivers and go jumping off of rocks a lot.
Silas (age 11)
My favorite park was Zion National Park.
My favorite part about it was that in the Narrows we could walk all the way up the river, jump into the water, take some sticks and float them down the river, float down the river ourselves, and play games in it. Another one of my favorite parts of Zion is the mile long tunnel. Here is a game you can play: Try to hold your breath through every tunnel you go through. With a mile long tunnel like in Zion, you can make the rule that if you get to a window, you can get another breath. The Zion tunnel we went through had a whole lot of windows. I also really like the amazing views on the hike you go on after you go through the tunnel. It’s a short and fun hike but we got pretty hot since there is no shade so try not to go when it’s super hot.
The trees at Sequoia were HUGE. I didn’t know a tree could be so big. Me and Oliver actually went inside a lot of trees there. I liked being in a forest with such amazing trees and it was so cool to drive our car right through one of the trees that had fallen down and that they made a tunnel through.
I’m glad we did this trip because it was so fun to have experiences of the national parks and be able to have such a great time camping, roasting marshmallows, and hiking.
For families visiting national parks, what I reccomend is that you should bring lots and lots of snacks so you don’t get hungry on hikes. The best snacks are cliff bars and trail mix, and maybe some fruit (but not bananas – they would get mushy).
Eliza (age 13)
I loved the the hike to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain because all along the way there were spectacular lakes. There was pretty lilly pads in one lake, and spectacular views at others. Emerald lake was super pretty because there was a waterfall at the end of it, and majestic mountains. Another hike I loved was the Narrows at Zion. Most of Zion is really hot, but I loved this hike because you are in the shade of the cliffs and you get to hike through the water, so you got cooled off. There was pretty waterfalls along the walls, and it was fun to see the canyon get narrower and narrower. Make sure to wear good watershoes.
One of my favorite days of all was at King’s Canyon. Here, we were able to swim at Roaring River Falls. Since the water was so low, it was so much fun to swim around without a strong current. After that, we went along to a beautiful forest trail, that led you down a gorgeous meadow (Zurrwalt Meadow) and through a cool boulder field, following the river until you got to a part of the river (right underneath a red bridge ) where it got really deep and the current wasn’t very strong, so you could swim around in the water just like in a pool. There was also rocks you could jump off of into the blue water. It was really cool to see the transition between a meadow, to a forest, to a boulder field to a beautiful river.
I’m glad we did this trip because it made me appreciate the things we take for granted such as a dishwasher and washer and dryer and a comfortable bed to sleep in. I also am glad we did this, because it helped me to learn more about the world we live in that I had no idea about, and I got a really good view of the wonders of the world.
Some advice if you’re camping is to not bring too much “stuff” when you are camping, you only need a few essentials. Don’t bring too many shoes because they take up a lot of room (I only used one old pair of old tennis shoes, and 1 pair of sandals – Chacos – for a whole month of camping). You only need a few outfits too and you can wear things a few times – when you’re camping it’s not realistic to have your clothes perfectly clean. It is also fun to bring a few fun games, such as a deck of cards (we had so much fun playing scum and other card games) and spikeball.
Isaac (age 15)
My favorite park was probably Glacier National Park. I liked the Victoria Falls hike with all the waterfalls on the way and loved jumping into the water by St Mary’s Falls. I also really liked the boardwalk loop hike at Glacier with the beautiful cedar trees and the waterfall that we could jump off in a little slot canyon there.
Grand Canyon is a great place to go running in the morning to see the sun come up on the canyon and light everything up (ran from North Rim Campground to Bright Angel Point one morning). Also the sunset is beautiful and makes for some great pics.
Mt. Rainier has a great hike that you can go in that leads through some glaciers! — one of my favorite hikes even thought it was super cold and rainy.
If you want to learn about different types of volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic is your park, if not, probably find another park around the area that interests you more. It had some cool hot pots but the ones at Yellowstone are way better. I didn’t think Lassen was that great – maybe mostly because the other parks were so amazing and it was sort of basic in comparison.
Crater Lake was super cool to learn about how deep it is. The color of the water was breathtaking!
I’m glad we did this trip because I got to learn about each National Park in detail and take home some cool facts.
My advice to families visiting national parks is to bring a pair of hiking, water, and slip-on shoes to any park you visit and hike in the evenings when there aren’t so many people around. Also, if you do the harder hikes, there are way less people and you get to see cool stuff that only tough people get to see.
Ashton (age 16)
I agree with Isaac on a favorite park. Glacier blew me away. The Going To The Sun Road had amazing views all the way up and down. The first hike we went on had a really cool place to jump into the freezing water (by St Mary’s Falls), and that got me hooked on a goal to jump into the water at as many parks as possible. My second favorite would probably be Kings Canyon. It’s right next to Sequoia, but most people haven’t heard of it. It had a really cool swimming place too, and some really cool cliffs all around that rivaled those of Yosemite but there were no crowds.
I also really liked one of the hikes that we did in Yosemite, Upper Falls – you get to climb to the very top of the tallest waterfall in North America. It was really long and hard and hot but the views from the top were breathtaking and made it worth the trip plus there were great little waterfalls and pools to jump in at the top.
Finally, I liked Mesa Verde because it was so different from all the other parks we’d been to. The other parks were about the nature and beauty of the landscape, and while Mesa Verde had that, I found the ancient civilisations fascinating.
I’m glad we did this trip because I learned a ton about nature and it helped me realize how amazing the world is.
My advice to families visiting national parks is… bring plenty of snacks and water for long hikes and plan out your day beforehand.