Top 5 Tips for a Fun & Memorable National Park Family Vacation

Harley and Abby McAllister, the authors of the Adventuring with Kids series of family-friendly guides to the national parks, stop by to share some of their best advice.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
August 08, 2018

If you spend the time and money to visit one of our nation’s amazing national parks, you will want your time there to be fun for your kids and make lasting memories that your family can recount for years to come.  Here are some of our best ideas to make that desire a reality:

1. Get out of the car and into nature.

Going to a National Park is a great way to get your kids into the natural world, but if you have a long checklist of things you want to see you may end up spending all your time driving from one attraction to the next.  Speed limits in the parks are slow, and there are often traffic jams where wildlife is spotted, so don’t let your time in the park turn into just a road trip. Make sure you are getting the kids out into nature more than they are sitting in a car.

2. Prepare for the weather

Little bodies get colder faster, so make sure you have the right clothing for them.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a fleece jacket and a rain slicker go a long way towards being prepared.  This also means to make sure you have sunscreen and bug or bear spray depending on location, but there is another way to prepare for weather – choose your itinerary wisely.  If it is a hot day, choose activities that have sun exposure for the cool of the morning, and hiking trails with lots of shade for the afternoon.  Better yet, choose an activity involving water during the heat of the day.  And if the forecast calls for rain, that is a great time to check out the visitor center or perhaps a historic lodge.

3. Start easy and leave extra time

Adults think about the destination, but kids enjoy the journey.  Instead of making a long list of things to see, pick fewer things and leave plenty of time to go at a relaxed pace that allows your kids to discover the little things – like climbing on rocks, floating a stick boat down the stream, watching wildlife or even insects, etc. Kids like to experience nature up close and personal, and not just press on to the final objective on the trail.

4. Take advantage of programs

Every park has a Junior Ranger program, and they do a good job of connecting kids to the park and imbuing them with a sense of purpose and ownership in protecting them.  Filling out the booklet can also help make good use of the inevitable time spent in the car or waiting for dinner.  In addition, ranger led hikes that are always informative, and some parks have special programs like star gazing, or even participating in research.  Inquire at the visitor center.

5. Bring lots of the essentials

A quick online search for the “10 essentials for a day hike” will show you what you need to know, but the most important item for kids is usually snacks.  Napoleon once said that “an army marches on its stomach”, and this is even more true for kids.  Many a time our kids have gotten a little grouchy or whiny on a hike and all they needed was a quick stop to enjoy a snack and they were ready to go again.  Having some delicious treats also makes the outing feel more special and bumps up the fun factor.  We often take a large bin of their favorites and let them choose which ones they want to bring in their small daypacks to help motivate them and keep them moving down the trail.

Keep these ideas in mind as you are making plans for your family’s National Park adventure and you’ll be sure to make some epic memories that your family will recall fondly for decades.

Learn More

Thanks, Harley and Abby! Check out Harley and Abby's web presentation for a deeper dive into the Top 5 Tips they've shared here. For more information on planning your national park family vacation, make sure to pick up a copy of the McAllisters' new  guide, Glacier National Park: Adventuring with Kids

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