10 Best National Parks to Hike With Kids

10 Best National Parks to Hike With Kids

Basically any National Park you choose to hike with your kids will be amazing. You just really can’t go wrong where National Parks are concerned. This being said, there are some parks that are more suited to hiking with the kiddos than others. Perhaps you’re wondering what exactly makes a National Park great for hiking with kids. Well, please read on to find out the 10 best National Parks to hike with kids.

10 Best National Parks to hike in with kids

Joshua Tree National Park

  • Trail: Anywhere from Jumbo Rocks Campground
  • Distance: Set your own pace
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Estimated Duration: You decide

If you set off for your hiking excursion in Joshua Tree National Park from the Jumbo Rocks Campground, you are sure to have an adventure. The campground is nestled into a field of giant boulders and makes a great place to stay while in the park too. A trail to Skull Rock can be found here, but you can really take any route you choose. Staying on a trail is not necessary, as long as you remember to practice Leave No Trace.

Many National Parks require visitors to stay on trails to minimize damage to plants. In Joshua Tree however, this is not always the case. Being that it is in the desert, there aren’t many plants to worry about. The ones that are here are usually spiky or spiny, and you will want to avoid stepping on them anyway. This means kids can explore where they want to and parents can go for as long as they’d like. Which makes for a true adventure!

Climbing and exploring in this area is perfect for any kids old enough for the playground. Bouldering on the giant rocks is an all time favorite. By climbing to the top of some of the boulders, you can get a terrific view of the campground. If you choose to stay closer to the ground, there are many passages formed by the boulders to explore. We did a little of both and the kids loved it. In fact this is our boys’ favorite National Park!

Olympic National Park

  • Trail: Spruce Nature Trail
  • Distance: 1.2 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 1-1.5 Hours

What makes Olympic one of the best National Parks to hike with kids? It’s the variety. Where else can you walk on the beach and then hike through a rainforest all in one day? Spend the morning beachcombing, then take a hike through the mossy, green Hoh Rainforest and find that perfect picnic spot to eat lunch. It feels like you are in a fairy-tale!

This loop trail to the Hoh river is a beautiful way to explore America’s only rainforest. It is an easy hike with very little elevation gain, perfect for little legs that want to explore further. Walking through this enchanted landscape, kids will discover many incredible sights. Mushrooms, mossy logs, and an abundance of trees are just some of what you will enjoy on this trail.

Loop trails are some of the best kinds to hike with kids. We like this trail because it leads to the beautiful, blue Hoh River. When a hike has a destination, like a river, it gives everyone a sense of accomplishment when they make it there. We sat and enjoyed our picnic lunch on the banks of the river. Afterward we skipped stones, climbed trees, and looked for signs of wildlife. This is definitely one of the best National Parks to hike with kids.

Congaree National Park

  • Trail: Boardwalk Loop Trail
  • Distance: 2.4 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 2-3 Hours

Congaree National Park is one of the smaller National Parks, but it still has some great family hiking. All the trails here begin from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. The Boardwalk Loop Trail is great for hiking with kids, especially if any of them are in a stroller. It is any easy walk, but be aware that due to the nature of this park some sections my be closed due to flooding. Check conditions on their website before you go or call the visitor center.

Here you will find yourself wandering through the largest expanse of old growth bottom-land hardwood forest in America. It is a land like no other. The trees are dense and water is flowing everywhere. Kids will love searching for wildlife from the boardwalk. We saw tons of birds, snakes, and frogs while we explored from the Boardwalk Loop Trail, but there are plenty of other animals living here to watch for as well. Enjoy the peaceful feeling you are sure to experience when walking along the boardwalk with your kids.

Death Valley National Park

  • Trail: Salt Creek
  • Distance: 1 Mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 0.5-1 Hour

Endless hiking opportunities await you in Death Valley, but Salt Creek is a must-do with kids. This hike is an excellent choice to take with kids because it allows you to decide how far you want to go. A short boardwalk loop trail takes you through the Salt Creek area where you can learn about some of Death Valley’s unique plant and animal life. Although not always found, the Pupfish live in the salty waters here and can only survive under the right conditions. You will also discover Pickleweed, a plant that will only grow in these salty conditions.

Boardwalk trails are great, especially for parents that are still utilizing strollers. Death Valley doesn’t have many, so this trail makes a great start to your adventure here. If you want to take your adventure beyond the boardwalk, just descend the few steps at the back of the trail. You can hike out for miles if you choose. Watch your step though because it does get muddy!

Everglades National Park

  • Trail: Anhinga Trail
  • Distance: 1.5 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 1-2 Hours

If you’ve never been to Everglades National Park, you may be surprised by what you find. It was nothing like what I was expecting it to be. By this I mean that is wasn’t swampy, dark or crawling with snakes. In fact, the water was fairly clear, the sun shone brightly, and while we saw plenty of lizards, we did not see a single snake. The abundance of wildlife to be experienced in Everglades is reason enough to visit with kids, but get out and go for hike, you won’t be disappointed!

On the Anhinga trail you will get up close to all sorts of wildlife. There are alligators, birds, turtles, and much more to be on the lookout for. We loved getting to see baby alligators perched on branches just above the water. They are so cute! It took us over an hour to hike the trail and back because we stopped so often to admire the animals all along the trail.

It is a great trail to hike with kids because it is flat and paved or boardwalk the whole way. Although it is one of the most popular trails, it is a great one for kids. Take your time to look around and observe the incredible environment. The wildlife is not the only attraction found on the trail. Many types of plants grow in this freshwater sawgrass marsh, including plenty of flowers. It is a perfect trail to see Everglades.

Yellowstone National Park

  • Trail: Upper Geyser Basin
  • Distance: 3 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 3-4 Hours

Watching hot water shoot up out of the ground might not sound all that exciting, but it is actually quite incredible. If you have never experienced it firsthand, you should. This is why Yellowstone is on the list of 10 best national Parks to hike with kids. They will love walking along the boardwalk where they can get a chance to see more than one geyser going off. Old Faithful is a must-see, but if your kids don’t want to wait for it, that’s OK, there are plenty of geysers in the park, and they are all amazing.

Once they get past the sulfur smell in the air, kids will really love watching the geysers erupting. Its not just about geysers though, there are also the beautiful prismatic pools to gaze into. The boardwalk makes for an easy hike through these amazing geological features. Stop often to watch the geysers erupting, take photos, or enjoy a snack. This is a very busy, but family friendly trail.

Our youngest was very impatient while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt so we let him take some pictures while we waited. If you want a good seat you will probably have to wait because the seating fills up quickly. It is worth the wait though. Our kids were amazed at the power of it once it started. Castle geyser was our favorite to watch however, because it goes off for so long. This trail is not the only one in Yellowstone of course, but it is a great one for experiencing this park with kids.

Big Bend National Park

  • Trail: Balanced Rock
  • Distance: 2.2 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 3 Hours

Being that Big Bend is such a large National Park, deciding on one trail is a challenge. The trail to Balanced Rock makes a perfect hike to do with kids. It starts out wide and gradually begins to narrow. Rock formations on either side of you are beautiful to look at and point out as you go along. The trial remains fairly level with no elevation gain. Until the end, of course.

Once you make it to the back of the trail, there will be some climbing involved to reach the balanced rock. The great thing about this trail however, is that you can see the balanced rock without climbing up to it. So if you or your kids aren’t able to make the climb, you still get the accomplishment of making it to the end. We made the climb with our four year old, so even fairly young kids should be able to make it.

If you do make it to the top, there are plenty of places for the kids to climb around. Plus you can get some great photos with the balanced rock! The view from the rock is beautiful. It makes a perfect place to enjoy your lunch or have a snack and take it all in. Big Bend has several great hikes to do with kids, but balanced rock is one I recommend you don’t miss.

Acadia National Park

  • Trail: Bar Island Trail
  • Distance: 2 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 1-2 Hours

On the coast of Maine you will find Acadia National Park. There are some really amazing places to explore within its boundaries. Mountain peaks, a beach, and rocky cliffs are a few of the surprises awaiting you here. Not all the hikes in this National Park are suitable for children. There’s one hike in particular that your kids are sure to love and you won’t want to miss.

This particular trail can be found in the small town of Bar Harbor. It is a sand bar that allows access to Bar Island only during low tide. This adds an element of excitement to this hike. We hyped up the danger of it just a little and our kids were thrilled to imagine we could get stranded out on the island until the next low tide. If you plan it right of course, there isn’t really much chance of this. It has happened though because the window to get out and back is about 1.5 hours.

With the right timing this can be the perfect hike to do with kids. They will love searching for crabs and shells on the walk across the land bridge. When you reach the island you can hike up an old dirt road to the highest point of the island for a beautiful view of the harbor. Also, the kids will enjoy splashing in the water on the shore and searching for signs of wildlife. Give yourself plenty of time to get out and back because the kids will want to stay all day!

Redwood National Park

  • Trail: Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail
  • Distance: 1 Mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Estimated Duration: 1-1.5 Hours

No National Park tour could be complete without a visit to Redwood. The incredible, giant trees make an excellent place to hike, especially with kids. You just can’t miss it because it is one of the best National Parks to hike with kids. Even the youngest kids are sure to be impressed by the enormity of these trees. The redwood trees are not the only attraction here, but they are awesome for kids and adults alike.

The Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail is a short loop that will take you on a path through some of these old giants. If you’re interested, there’s a brochure available that will tell you about different locations along the trail. Kids enjoy learning about the area as they walk along. They will also love playing in some of the hollow trunks of the still living redwoods. A ground covered in ferns and tree trunks covered in moss are just some of what makes this place so appealing to people.

Smell the damp air fragrant with new growth, feel the rich soil under your feet, and peer up to the tops of the towering limbs. These are all things that make Redwood National Park such an amazing place to hike with kids. There isn’t just one giant tree on this trail and kids will get some great exercise running from one to the next trying to find the biggest or the tallest. Make some incredible family memories hiking in Redwood National Park!

Shenandoah National Park

  • Trail: Dark Hollow Falls
  • Distance: 1.4 Miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Estimated Duration: 2 Hours

Shenandoah is one of the most popular National Parks in America and for good reason. In this park you will find yourself surrounded by forest and incredible views. It has tons to offer in the way of hiking experiences. There are several waterfall hikes to choose from, but if you’re only able to do one, I highly recommend Dark Hollow Falls.

You can access the trailhead for Dark Hollow Falls from the Big Meadows Campground. It starts off on a wandering path through tall grass and scattered trees. As you get further along the trees get thicker and the trail does become steep in some sections. Unfortunately, this trail is not going to accommodate all levels. If you can make it to the end, you will be rewarded with views of an incredible cascading waterfall.

If you are lucky you will have some opportunities to see wildlife along the trail. We were surprised by a mama black bear and her two little cubs when we were on this trail. It was amazing to be so close and a little unnerving too. She didn’t seem to mind us at all, so we got some pictures and continued on. Never approach wildlife too closely, it can be very dangerous. The kids were so excited by this, they almost forgot about the waterfall, which I fell in and had to hike all the way back with a wet foot. It was totally worth it!

These are the 10 Best National Parks to Hike With Kids

Like I said, any National Park is great for hiking, but these are some of our favorite hikes and ones that are great for kids. We love our National Parks and can’t wait to visit more of them. Please note that we have not been to National Parks outside of the 48 contiguous states. This article may be updated as we visit more of these amazing places. If you have any suggestions on great hikes for kids in National Parks please leave us a comment and check out this great article Best of the Best National Parks by our friends at planningaway.com. Thanks for reading and get out and take a hike!

10 Best National Parks to hike with kids
10 Best National Parks to hike with kids
10 Best National Parks to hike with kids

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29 thoughts on “10 Best National Parks to Hike With Kids”

    • We have gotten lost several times and they are the kids favorite hikes! Of course we weren’t that lost and the adults knew we would be fine with the emergency supplies, water and food we had. They like it so much the first time, that we have ‘gotten lost’ a few times since then to add to the excitement.

    • We also love visiting state parks! In Casey Illinois they have a bunch of the world’s largest items (like pitchfork, mailbox, top, tee and more!) that we had a blast checking out. Not really hiking, but super fun with kids.

  1. Ugh! ALL OF THESE are on my list!! I totally agree with you about Yellowstone (though we don’t have kiddos yet, so I’ve never experienced it WITH kids). Yellowstone is my favorite National Park, though, so I’ll be eager to return when our soon-to-be-born daughter is old enough πŸ™‚

    • It was so difficult narrowing the list down to only 10! Yellowstone definitely is a unique place, so we understand why so many people visit the park.

  2. There are so many National Parks on this list that I want to take our kids! You’ve sold me on Joshua Tree and Redwood, since those were ones high on my list. Thanks for all of the great info!

    • We knew we would love the Redwoods, but Joshua Tree was really a surprise to us. My sons both say it’s their favorite after visiting more than 100 NPS sites! I hope you get to visit one or both of them.

    • We always pictured the Everglades as a big desolate swamp, but it wasn’t. It is a place that is teeming with life and the only downside was the mosquitoes!

  3. I love hitting the outdoors with my family and these places make me dream of an overseas trip! I am sure that they will love the memories made on these epic trips!

    • I hope you get to travel overseas because the National Parks in America are pretty epic. It is our dream to take our adventure to other countries!

  4. A wonderful family! I was really happy reading your article. We love adventure too and I hope we can bring our kids to those beautiful parks too. Treasure the memories while they were still kids.

  5. Thanks for all the great info! I always appreciate a time estimate when planning any hike so I can better prepare for the weather.

    On an unrelated note, I loved all the family pictures you included! It makes this best of list feel so much more personal!!

    • We love exploring and it was our pleasure visiting tons of National Parks to write this article. Our hope is that it inspires other families to explore National Parks too.

  6. Hey “State-by-State family!”

    I really enjoyed reading this post…I read every word of it! Lol. Great photos, too. πŸ™‚

    Thank you for sharing a little of your family adventures! You are SO BLESSED to be able to do this. You are making incredible memories!!

    How wonderful for your kids to grow up traveling and learning about America firsthand like this!! How I wish I could’ve had at least a few of these experiences while growing up!! And, I’m sure, all your traveling and exploring has brought your family very close together.

    Blessings,
    Cindy

    • We are so happy to hear that you enjoyed our article! We do feel very blessed to share all of these experiences together as a family. It is wonderful that we live in such a beautiful place that allows us to enjoy the freedom to travel.

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