Does your family love to get out into nature and explore amazing hiking trails, mountains, and waterfalls? We love it too! Our family has been trying to visit as many national parks as we can while the kids are young. On our journeys, we have come up with the Best National Parks in the USA and wanted to share it with you. Let me show you the best of American national parks from the East Coast to the West Coast. Hopefully, you will find some inspiration for your next family vacation.
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Best National Parks in the USA
Acadia National Park
Location – Bar Harbor, Maine
Acadia National Park has amazing views from the highest headlands along the Atlantic Coast. Here you will find a mix of seven peaks to hike, sandy beaches, and the ocean. Families can take a ranger-led boat tour and touch real sea life in season plus search for seals, porpoises, and birds. They also have a great nature center with hands-on exhibits to learn more about this cool National Park. When the kids get tired, take a gorgeous drive along Park Loop Road.
If you are interested in hiking with the family, there are several great trails to try, such as Wonderland, Ship’s Harbor, and Flying Mountain. To keep the kids excited about the hikes, check out the kid’s program Acadia Quest. It’s a family-oriented program that lets families make teams to complete activities throughout the park.
The Bar Harbor area is known for their delicious Popovers. You can find them at the Jordan Pond House in the park. However, in the busy season, you will need to take the shuttle as parking will be limited. Or do what the locals do and enjoy them at The Asticou Hotel in Northwest Harbor. While you’re visiting the park, make sure to leave some time to explore the cute town of Bar Harbor, too. It’s a great location to find hotels, restaurants, and quaint shops. If you are looking for a fun New England family vacation, this area has it all. Learn more about Acadia National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Location – Ohio – In between Cleveland and Akron Ohio
One of the newest National Parks is located in Ohio and close to civilization which makes it easy to find Starbucks and hotels. However, once you are in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, you will feel miles away from anything. The park was started to preserve the interesting history of the canal lock system. Families can learn more about the history at their visitor center filled with interactive exhibits.
What we loved the most were the cool hikes through different types of terrain. Our two favorites are the hikes to the beautiful Brandywine Falls and climbing the amazing moss & boulder covered paths in Virginia Kendall Ledges. Both are kid-friendly hikes your family will love.
The location of this park is also a huge draw. Located on the edge of the Midwest, it is easy for families driving from the East Coast or Midwest to visit. Plus there are tons of hotels in the area to stay or camping.
Learn more about visiting this cool national park in my Best Guide to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Everglade National Park
Location – Florida Everglades, Between Miami and Naples Florida
If you’re headed down to Florida, the Everglades National Park is a must-see. It is an interesting national park created to protect the unique ecosystem of the wetlands. Besides preserving the landscape, the park also protects the American crocodiles, alligators, manatees, birds, and panthers. This is the only place in the world that alligators and crocodiles coexist. If your family wants to see crocodiles or alligators, this is the place to visit
In the park, you will find many boardwalk hikes to keep you out of the wetlands water areas. Find great boardwalks to walk at Anhinga Trail and Mahogany Hammock Trail. The most popular site to see is Shark Valley. It’s a longer drive to get to but a great spot to see wildlife. Once you arrive at the visitor center, you ride a shuttle or bike to a huge observation tower overlooking the everglades.
Want an adventure while you’re there? Take a ride on Florida’s popular airboat rides through the everglades. Zoom through the Everglades and glide over grasses while looking for local wildlife. This was our family’s favorite part and I detail all about it in Best Airboat Rides What to See & DO.
Everglades National Park is located in between Miami, Naples, and Marco Island. All are great places to stay while visiting the National Park. If you want to expand your trip, visit Big Cypress National Preserve located just north of the park and Everglade City. Once you’re done with your long day of exploring make sure to visit the beautiful beaches in Naples and Marco Island, too!
Grand Canyon National Park
Location – Northern Arizona
The Grand Canyon is where you go when you’re ready to be in awe. The Canyon is one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders and pretty amazing to see in person. Take your time while you’re there to view the different colors in the rocks as the sunlight changes. Consider visiting the two different parts of the canyon, the more popular South Rim and longer to drive to North Rim (5 hours north).
If you are not serious hikers, then a half a day exploring the South Rim is probably enough. However, if you want to hike down the canyon, keep in mind it is 4 hours to get down and 6-8 hours to climb back up. You will still get an amazing experience driving along the South Rim and getting out at the stops along the way for pictures and beautiful views. There are also a few short hikes for kids on the South Rim. Summer months can get very busy and you might want to take the shuttle rather than drive yourself.
Other fun ways to see the Canyon are to take a helicopter ride, mule ride, or scenic train ride. All would be fun and unique experiences for your family.
There is a hotel to stay in at the Grand Canyon but make sure to make your reservations early as it fills up quick. We stayed in Flagstaff as we only made the visit a day trip so we could explore all of Arizona. Flagstaff has a really cute town plus tons of hiking and areas to explore. It is only an hour and a half from Grand Canyon Village.
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
Location – California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains
Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park hold 7 of the largest Sequoia trees in the world. The parks are adjacent to each other and are just a couple hours south of Yosemite. You will be blown away by the sheer size of the Sequoia trees you’ll see on your visit.
You could easily do both of these parks in one long day with kids. However, if you want to do more hiking and exploring, then I would make it a two-day trip. There is lodging in both parks and camping options. The hotels book up fast so make sure to book these well in advance of your stay.
Sequoia National Park
At Sequoia National Park, start out by visiting the Foothills Visitor Center and the Giant Forest Museum. These are great places to learn more about the giant sequoia trees and ask the rangers questions. Next, head to General Sherman Tree and Trail to see the world’s largest known living tree. Enjoy walking through the woods on a mostly paved trail to discover this huge tree. Afterward, head to the Congress Loop trail to see the 3rd and 4th tallest Sequoias.
If you want an easy hike with the kids, check out Crescent Meadow where you’ll find a huge tree to sit in and a house made out of sequoias called Tharp’s Log. Another fun hike is to Tokopah Falls which is a rockier hike along a river but still doable with kids. Plus the waterfall at the end is worth the hike.
Kings Canyon National Park
The second-largest sequoia, General Grant, is located in Kings Canyon National Park. This should be your first stop on your visit. Head to Grant Grove Trail and take the easy 0.6 mile loop around General Grant Tree. While there, look for the Fallen Monarch, a nature-made fort for the kids to explore. After this, take a drive on Kings Canyon Scenic Byway and make sure to stop at the pull-off to take in the amazing views.
Next, take a scenic hike at Zumwalt Meadow, an easy 1.8-mile trail next to the Kings River. Make sure to look up and take in the view of the Grand Sentinel and North Dome towering above you.
Shenandoah National Park
Location – Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains
Shenandoah National Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, not too far from Washington, D.C. The park covers over 300 square miles in the Virginia Mountains. As you drive along Skyline Drive, which runs through the whole park, you will see amazing views of the mountains and valleys. Start off at one of the three Visitor Centers to learn more about the park’s history, nature, and wildlife.
The park has several family-friendly hikes to do. We loved the hike to Dark Hollow Falls to see the beautiful waterfall. The kids also really enjoyed the hikes on Stony Man Trail and Bear Fence Mountain Trail where they could climb the rocks along the way. Both end with stunning views across the mountains. Find more easy family hikes and my tips for first-time visitors at Shenandoah National Park.
Like Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park is surrounded by great little towns to visit and tons of fun family activities in Shenandoah Valley. We highly recommend exploring the huge cave at Luray Caverns. It was the highlight of our trip. Also check out the surrounding towns of Winchester and Staunton, Virginia for fun museums, civil war history, great restaurants, and shops. The best part about Shenandoah National Park is it’s not isolated, so there are fun family activities both inside and outside of the park. You can easily spend a week vacation here. Learn more about Things to Do in Shenandoah Valley.
Smoky Mountains National Park
Location – Straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee
The Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the US. Besides being a beautiful park, it also has a great location in the middle of the country. This park is easily accessible for people to get to and enjoy a few days living in the mountains. The park also has a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail. The best part of the Smoky Mountains is it’s Free!
Start your visit out at Sugarland Visitor Center to learn more about the park and sign up for some great Ranger-led tours. Then take some fun family hikes to explore the park. We loved the easy hike to Cataract Falls. You can also hike along parts of the historic Appalachian Trail. If you want to get a great view of the Smoky Mountains, take the hike up to Clingman’s Dome. Just a warning though, it is a steep climb up a paved path.
Another great way to learn the history of the park is to drive Cades Cove Loop. It’s an 11-mile, one-way scenic drive with historic stops along the way. Pick up the self-guided tour or download the app to find out what is at each stop along the way. You will visit historic homes, churches, a grist mill and more. This is a perfect activity in the afternoon when the kids are tired of hiking. Learn more tips for visiting the Smoky Mountains.
Outside of the Smoky Mountains National Park, you will find the touristy towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Both of these towns have tons of restaurants, shops, and lodging plus some slightly cheesy places like Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums that the kids will love. Tip: There are tons of cabins to rent if you want to get a great view but still be close to town. We found the pricing similar to staying in downtown Gatlinburg. Learn more in 7 Fun Things to Do in Gatlinburg TN.
Yosemite National Park
Location – Eastern Central California
Of all the National Parks on the list, I think Yosemite National Park has some of the most stunning scenery. Here you will see amazing waterfalls, mountains, sequoia trees, and beautiful meadows. This also can be a very busy park to visit especially in the summer months. However, they do have a great shuttle system you can use to get around the park.
The main area you will visit is Yosemite Valley, a 7-mile stretch of glacier-carved granite and meadows. There are several great hikes for families from the Valley area. Try Glacier Point Loop for an easy paved path with stunning views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. When you’re ready to see waterfalls, hike the Bridalveil Falls Trail and Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. Both will lead you to scenic waterfalls. Then, enjoy an easy walk through Cooks Meadow Loop and gaze up at the mountains around you.
Yosemite Village is where you will find all of the lodging, restaurants, shops, and Yosemite Museum. This is a great stop even if you are staying outside of the park to pick up food or souvenirs. There is only one loop road that drives through Yosemite Village which helps you from getting lost. Tip: There are a lot of bears in this area so make sure not to leave food in your car or unattended at a campsite.
Every Kid in a Park
The national park system is trying to encourage all kids to visit the National Parks. To do this they have created a program called Every Kid in a Park. It allows 4th Grade kids and their families to get in free to all National Parks. Kids are eligible for the full year including the summer before and after 4th grade. This is a great way to save some money and enjoy the parks as a family.
Hiking with Kids Tips
Before you go on a hike in one of these fabulous National Parks get a few of my best hiking with kids tips. Simple ways to make your family day out less stressful and fun. Keep the kids interested in your hike with some cool trail games and activities. Plus be prepared with my free printable hiking checklist with all the hiking gear you need to bring on your family hike. Get everything you need to know in the Ultimate Guide to Hiking with Kids.
How to Plan the Cost of Your Trip
Find out the full cost of your upcoming vacation with my free Trip Cost Calculator. Use this easy tool to help build your travel budget and get a better idea of how much you need to save for vacation. You can adjust each travel item cost until you find a total amount that you can afford. Then build your dream vacation around your personal travel budget.
Are you inspired now to visit a national park on your next family vacation? I really hope this list of the Best National Parks in the USA helps you narrow down the parks that are the best fit for your family. I’d love to hear from you about your trip or any questions you may have. Leave me a note in the comments and I will get back to you. I love to hear from my readers.
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