The Best National Parks For Family Vacations
Compiling a list of the best national parks for family vacations is like making a list of the nation’s best pizzas – it’s bound to start some arguments. When you consider geography as well as a diversity of scenery and experiences, you can narrow the list a little.
These parks are just a tip of the wonderful iceberg of parks, waterways, trails, and historic places under the supervision of the National Park Service. Find your favorite today – and start making plans!
Top 8 National Parks for Families:
This is definitely one for the see-it-while-you-can crowd. Global warming continues to threaten the namesake glaciers in this iconic park high on the Montana-Canada border, but nothing will alter the incredible scenery and diverse wildlife, from bighorn sheep and elk to mountain goats and mountain lions. Hiking trails from mild to wild abound in this expansive park, but the Going-To-The-Sun Road is also worth a drive (or go the eco-friendly way and hop on a historic, restored red tour bus).
Bonus: Waterston Lakes National Park, just across the border in the Canadian province of Alberta, is every bit as breathtaking.
Granted, it’s pretty high up in Maine, but if you’re living anywhere in the metro Northeast it’s a fairly easy drive (as long as you go off-peak and don’t try U.S. 1 on a summer Saturday). The views are worth it, from the 360-degree panoramas on top of Cadillac Mountain to the walk around Jordan Pond to all the incredible rocks-and-beach views of the Atlantic Ocean. Pack snacks for all the hiking or biking you’ll be doing on the Rockefellers’ old carriage roads, but save room for the famous popovers at Jordan Pond House restaurant.
Great Smoky Mountains
It can sometimes be daunting to get your kids past the crowds and the kitsch that surrounds the park at the Gatlinburg entrance, but ease on past the T-shirt shops and you’ll find yourself in a world of almost rainforest-like vegetation, twisty roads that drop off into incredibly deep valleys, flowers carpeting the forest floor, and a climate that alternates between high-altitude refreshment and Old South humidity.
The nation’s most-visited national park, GSM is also right in the backyard of Knoxville, a rapidly evolving city that’s fast becoming the “second Asheville.”
There are so many great choices for national parks to visit in the Intermountain region, from the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in the north to Zion in the south, but split the difference and you get this expansive park not far from Denver. Older than you might think (1915) and surprisingly busy (it’s the 3rd most-visited park in the United States), the park offers incredible Alpine-like vistas on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States, and wonderful hiking trails surrounding Longs Peak.
Sequoia / Kings Canyon
The first national park created to protect a living organism, Sequoia is into its third century of preserving the world’s tallest trees. Kids are often completely awestruck by the size and majesty of these trees – and that’s only part of what these parks have to offer.
In addition to incredible trees, Sequoia and Kings Canyon have glacial canyons, broad lake basins, lush meadows, and sheer granite peaks. The expanse of the wilderness makes you forget that cities like Visalia and Fresno are just down in the valley… but they are.
There’s getting away from it all – and then there’s getting away from it all to Isle Royale. This island park off the shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is surrounded by the largest of the United States’ “inland oceans” – Lake Superior.
Superior water is clear, cold, and full of fish. Beaches can be rocky and swimming can be pleasant or bone-chilling depending on that day’s currents, but the hiking and kayaking can’t be beat, and the walk-in campsites are everyone’s idea of the perfect rustic camping experience. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent and hope you miss the annual hatch of the area’s notorious black flies, and get ready for a wilderness adventure to remember.
Expert tip: Bring your mountain bikes and spend a day hitting the trails around Houghton and Copper Harbor, on the mainland.
Denali and Hawai’i Volcanoes
The nation’s newest states are home to some of the nation’s most spectacular parks. Denali and Hawai’i Volcanoes are grouped together because they’re not exactly road-trip material, and they’re great reasons to visit great places; otherwise, they’re as different as can be.
Denali is snow-covered year-round but offers backcountry hiking and whitewater rafting during its super-long summer days.
Hawai’i Volcanoes counters with hikes through lush rainforests and volcanic moonscapes, and spectacular drives down to the sea.
Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed sights and experiences you won’t find anywhere else in this country. And isn’t that what a national-park vacation should be?
Travel Insurance for National Parks and Family Vacations
The nature of a vacation to a national park means getting off the beaten path to some areas where one wrong step or a life threatening bug bite could spell big trouble. Are you ready to foot the bill for an emergency medical evacuation on your trip?
With a travel insurance plan from Generali Global Assistance, you and your family can have coverage for those kinds of life-threatening situations, and other specific events that could wreck your trip. Our plans are perfect for family vacations of all types – including road trips and excursions to national parks. Our 24/7 Emergency Assistance line means help is always just one call away. Get a quote today and see for yourself.