There are few more rewarding trips with kids than visiting one of the National Parks in the US. If you don’t have plans for the whole summer yet, you should definitely consider it. This year marks the centennial celebration of the National Park Service, so it is a fitting time to visit a few and learn about them. With so many to choose from, chances are you have one within driving distance, and you can even visit it during a weekend trip.
Your kids can get a National Parks Passports, then collect stamps in them at every park they visit. They can also become “Junior Rangers” and be guardians of the park. Through this program they learn about their environment, geology, flora and fauna in different places, and history. Some of the parks are set up to protect nature and wildlife, while others protect archaeological sites.
When you first enter a National Park, stop a the visitor center. After getting (or stamping) their passport, have your children tell the ranger that they would like to become “Junior Rangers”. They will get a booklet with questions to answer while they visit the exhibits at the visitor center and hike some of the trails in the park. After the visit, after the booklet is filled out (you’ll notice how much the kids have learned by then, while having fun), they take it back to the ranger, and they they get sworn into the junior ranger society, by promising to protect the park, stay on designated trails, not pick up artifacts scattered around. To make it official, they get a badge for that particular park. They can become junior rangers at every park you visit with them.
If your child (or one of your children) is a fourth grader (or of fourth grade age), you get a bonus this year, with “Every Kid in a Park” pass, giving your family free access to the parks for a year. More info on this here: https://www.nps.gov/kids/index.cfm
Otherwise it is still worth getting the Golden Eagle pass, for $80, which gives you access to any park for a year.
You can spend days in the parks, since they have camp grounds and at least a lodge or two at each of them. Since it is their 100 year anniversary, it might be hard to get into the lodges unless you plan in advance, but you can always stay in a town close to it, if all else fails. Or you can just make it day trip either from home, if you live close enough to one, or from a close town you might want to stay for a vacation.
You and your kids get to spend time outdoors hiking and enjoying some of the best scenery in the world, or go through long abandoned ruins and learn about people who lived there. You children will be leading you and telling you stories they have learned from their junior ranger booklet. They will probably even pick up garbage on the trails, make sure you don’t step off the trail where the flora is fragile, they will show you things you might not notice otherwise. Just take it slow, and follow their lead, and you will have the best vacation moments ever.
Grand Canyon National Park (photo by the author)
Mesa Verde National Park (photo by the author)
There are parks in each of the States, so I’m sure you’ll find one close by. To find one close to you, go to this site, and type in your state:
Emese Fromm is a writer/translator whose work has appeared in publications like Parachute by Mapquest, Travel Thru History, Travellady, Skipping Stones, InTravel Magazines, among others. She specializes in travel, but writes about a variety of topics.