The U.S. is scattered with fantastic outdoor adventures for kids, and to narrow it down to the top 10 seems unfair to all the other equally wonderful destinations. When you get outdoors with your kids, you’ll find your own favorites.
Put these spots on your bucket list! They won’t disappoint.
#1 Yellowstone National Park
The first national park has it all. First of all, it’s a super volcano, so there are geothermal features throughout the park including geysers, hot springs, and boiling mud pots. You can drive or hike to one of the 45 waterfalls. Keep your eyes open for animals. You will see bison, you’ll probably see elk, and you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of a bear or moose. Outside the park, the towns of Gardiner and Big Sky offer several options for white water rafting. While you’re in the area, make sure you swim in one of the numerous hot springs. You can’t swim in the park hot springs, but there are several developed hot springs outside of the park.
#2 The North Shore of Lake Superior
You can camp at a state park or in the Superior National Forest or stay at any one of the numerous resorts and hotels along the shore. Your kids will love to walk and climb around Gooseberry State Park’s series of waterfalls. Everyone should dip their toes in Lake Superior’s frigid waters and scan the pebble beaches for agates. Swim at the mouth of the Baptism River, and head all the way to the border of Canada to take a short, accessible hike to the impressive Pigeon River Falls. Try canoeing on one of the inland lakes. You can rent a great variety of outdoor equipment from Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply.
#3 The Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains are known for their breathtaking fall colors, but every season offers its unique perks. There are over 100 waterfalls in the national park and hiking trails lead to many of them. On a hot summer day, kids and adults alike will enjoy a float down the Deep Creek of Great Smoky or down the Little River just north of the park. You can rent tubes in the park or in nearby Townsend. Outside of the park, you’ll find white water rafting options varying from Class I to Class V. In the winter, hike to Laurel Falls and if you’re lucky and it’s cold enough, you may even get to see it partially frozen.
#4 Southern Utah National Parks
Hitting all five parks will take a few days, but it will be a trip of a lifetime. Take a shuttle through Zion and hop on and off to hike or take photographs of the 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs. Next, spend some time in the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. For a special adventure, go on a horseback tour. Less-famous Capitol Reef National Park is the next stop. It is home to Waterpocket Fold where you’ll want to get out and explore. Look skyward at night. Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park; in other words, you won’t see more of the spectacular night sky than you will there. When you travel through Arches, next on your journey, look for – what else – arches. There are over 2,000 of them. Wrap up your tour with Canyonlands, and spend some time in the buttes and canyons of the Islands in the Sky District.
#5 Yosemite National Park
You will definitely want to see the giant sequoias. Your kids will be shocked that a tree could grow that big. Hold onto your kids’ hands while you take in the view at Glacier Point, a jaw-dropping 3,214 feet above the valley. An easy hike will take you Bridalveil Falls where your kids can cool off in the mist. And, of course, the iconic El Capitan is a must-see. Keep an eye out for climbers on the 3,000-foot vertical face.
#6 Acadia National Park
It may be difficult to get your little ones out of bed for sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, but if you do, you’ll be the first to see the sun in the US. If you miss it, try for sunset. Sand Beach offers the chance to build sandcastles and play. You can bike through the carriage roads of the park. One of the most kid-friendly adventures is to explore the tidal pools at low tide and find all sorts of aquatic creatures like starfish and crabs.
#7 Glacier National Park
Going to the Sun Road will offer your kids spectacular panoramic views while you are white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel. If that’s not for you, take a shuttle. The Hidden Lake Overlook hike at Logan pass crosses snowfields late into July. Making snow angels in the summer heat is an experience your kids will remember for a lifetime. Take advantage of the fact that Glacier doesn’t require fishing licenses and teach your children to fish. You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and motorboats in Apgar Village at Lake MacDonald.
#8 Jackson Hole
Adventure awaits year-round in Jackson Hole. In winter, you can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge. The Teton Range offers some of the best downhill skiing in the country. Your kids can take ski lessons no matter what their level. Snow King Resort in town has winter snow tubing, which the whole family will enjoy. In the fall, head into Grand Teton National Park and listen for the rutting bull elk bugles, especially early and late in the day. In the spring, in the park, wildflowers abound, and you can be on the lookout for baby moose and bear cubs. During the summer, enjoy a chuckwagon dinner and concert at the Bar J Chuckwagon.
#9 Grand Canyon National Park
This is probably on everyone’s bucket list. You’ve seen the pictures, so you know it’ll be amazing. You can rent bikes and bike trailers for the younger children and pedal the Rim Trail. Sunrise offers a scene that doesn’t compare with anything else. Hike South Kaibob trail into the canyon, but ask yourself the following before you go too far down: “Am I willing to carry my ‘exhausted’ child back up this trail?”
#10 Sanibel and Captiva Islands
The best part of the island is the shells. The beaches boast 250 different kinds of shells for your little beachcombers to discover. You can rent bikes to get everywhere on the islands. Go bird-watching on the wildlife refuge at low tide, where you’ll find pelicans and other birds feasting on stranded fish. The Sanibel Sea School offers daily and weekly programs for kids.
Junior Ranger Program
Instead of saying the same thing for every national park, I’ll tell you once, right here. All the national parks have a Junior Ranger Program. This is a fantastic way for your child to personally connect personally with the park. To earn their badge, they’ll have to attend Ranger programs where they’ll hear from the experts about park features and historical information. They’ll also have to study nature and fill in their program booklet with their observations. Upon completion, they will receive a badge. This program is a valuable resource and one you should take advantage of.
The national parks all require an entrance fee, but if you have a fourth grader along, they can get a pass to get in free! The fourth-grade pass is valid from September 1 through August 31. If you have a lot of children, you can take advantage of this for years.
Put these adventure destinations on your wishlist, but remember to get outdoors with your kids in your area of the US. Each area of the country offers a different adventure. Go find it!
Melanie Musson is a writer for carinsurancecomparison.com and autoinsurance.org. She loves spending every second possible outdoors with her family. With a home in the Rocky Mountains, the opportunities at their doorstep are endless.