12 of the most family-friendly US National Parks for summer vacations

Family walking on rocks at Arches National Park
Family favourite Arches National Partk (Image credit: Getty Images)

Many US National Parks offer a fantastic vacation destination for families. Whatever the age of your children, from toddlers to teens, the US National Parks offer a host of outdoor activities and plenty to entertain. 

But are you wondering which are the most family-friendly National Parks in the US for summer holidays? There are more than 60 National Parks in the US, so let us guide you to the 12 that will best suit families (in no particular order because every family is different).

Aerial view of Grand Canyon National Park

The huge scale of the Grand Canyon National Park makes it a must for many families (Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

One of the world’s most famous national parks, the Grand Canyon has to be seen to be believed. Whatever your age, the sheer enormity of the landscape is breath-taking. The canyon is a mile deep and some 277 miles long.

There are hikes to view the canyon and many leave the parking lots. For example, the South Rim Trail between the South Kaibab Trailhead and Hermits Rest gives superb canyon views. Usefully, if  kids get tired, there is a free shuttle bus that stops along the trail.

Another idea is Bright Angel Trail, which it’s recommended you head to early in the day. For a gentle stroll and a lovely picnic spot, Shoshone Point is a good shout.

You can also rent bikes and cycle along the South Rim. Or how about taking a boat trip on the Colorado River? They are water based activities from white-water adventures to peaceful rafting trips.

Landscape at Joshua Tree National Park at sunset

Adults and children alike will love the natural wonders of Joshua Tree National Park (Image credit: Getty Images)

2. Joshua Tree National Park, California

There is a wonder world of fabulous nature in Joshua Tree National Park  and so much to amaze both adults and children.  Joshua trees a fabulously twisty and spiky, while the huge piles of granite boulders appear to have been made for climbing

Great ideas for families include climbing at Echo Cove, hiking among the giant boulders at Arch Rock Trail, walking amid fabulous cacti in Cholla Cactus Garden, seeing the sunset at Keys View, or booking a camping spot at one of many campgrounds and enjoying the desert sky at night. 

Note that the best time to visit the park is mid-week to avoid the worst of the crowds and temperatures can be very high in summer, so earlier and later in the day are best, rather than mid-day when the sun is at its hottest.

3. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park has amazing wow-factor and is a great place to visit with the family. You can hike or have fun going mountain biking on a wide network of trails. 

The red-rock landscape is incredible with more than 2000 natural stone arches, hundreds of high pinnacles, vast rock fins and giant rocks that balance seemingly precariously on top of others. Stay until sunset for even more amazing vistas.

This is a park that is warm even in winter so make sure you are prepared for the summer heat with sun hats, sunscreen, cooling and wicking summer hiking clothes, plus plenty of water for staying hydrated.

4. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Famous for many glaciers and snow, even in spring, Mount Rainier National Park focuses on Mount Rainier, standing at more than 14,000ft tall. In summer, the alpine meadows are stunninglt beautiful with colourful flowers. 

For families, it’s suggested they head to an area called Paradise, where there is a short walking trail that starts from visitor center.  There is also  a chance to walk one the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls Viewpoint.

Man and two boys in boat at Everglades National Park

Enjoy a boat tour with the family at Everglades National Park (Image credit: Getty Images)

5. Everglades National Park, Florida

Away from Florida's tourist honeypots of Disney and the beaches, Everglades National Park provides families with a wealth of outdoors things to do for families. 

The Everglades extends to 1.5 million acres and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance. 

The vast swamp is home to hundreds of different species of wildlife, both native and non-native.

To enjoy the experience, you could choose to camp, whether backcountry wild camping or at one of the campgrounds. The summer months, from May to November, are what is called the wet season but it’s the ideal time to visit to avoid crowds and to spot wildlife.

Like many US National Parks, there is a Junior Ranger Program pack available with lots of things to do during the park visit.

Families can take a tour of the Everglades on a boat tour, hike on trails, or head to one of four visitor centres. You can also rent bikes or take a tram to see further afield.  

Parents and young child standing on rock overlooking Aacadia National Park

Discover Acadia National Park (Image credit: Getty Images)

6. Acadia National Park, Maine

This park is located on Maine’s coastline and extends to 47,000 rugged acres. Most of the park is situated on Mount Desert Island, with an impressive landscape of pine forests, beaches and mountains. Make sure both adults and kids have their camera or phones at the ready for taking photos.

A highlight for families include the tidepools at Bar Harbor, where you’ll be able to spot myriad sealife, such as crabs, urchins and mussels.

Woman and daughter hiking mountain trail at Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is another family favourite in America (Image credit: Getty Images)

7. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

If hiking is what your family enjoys, then head to Rocky Mountain National Park, which can be accessed from the city of Denver.

There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails, almost 150 lakes and more than 75  mountains with a summit that sours above 12,000ft.

You don’t have to walk far – or take a drive-and-hike – to be wowed by the scenery and the chance to  spot incredible wildlife, such as elk, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, and marmots.

Children holding hands standing around giant redwood tree

Redwood trees are giants (Image credit: Getty Images)

8. Redwood National & State Parks, California

Giant redwoods are an awesome sight, no matter your age, and Redwood National and State Parks are home to the tallest ones on Earth. 

Some suggested hikes include the Founders Grove, where you will encounter a fallen Dyerville Giant, and the short Rockefeller Loop. Both trails are within Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Another must-do is Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, where you may spot Roosevelt elk.

9 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone was designated a National Park on March 1, 1872, and has been a destination for travellers ever since.

There are impressive hydrothermal and geologic features located amid 2.2 million acres – yes, it’s that huge –  and there are many opportunities to spot a wide range of wildlife. 

The National Park System’s excellent Junior Ranger programs teaches kids (and adults) all about the park’s history, plants, and animals through fun activities. 

See geysers, go camping, walk on miles and miles of hiking trails, cycle, horse ride, or take a boat tour or whitewater rafting trip. And look out for wildlife as you journey.  

Family of three walking on dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park

A great family experience awaits at Great Sand Dunes National Park (Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado 

More great natural wonders await in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and this time, you guessed it, it’s dunes. In fact you’ll experience the tallest dunes in North America. There is a surprisingly diverse landscape to explore, too, including grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes and tundra. 

Things to do with the family include sand sledding, messing about on beaches, hiking in forests, alpine lakes and also camping out on a star-filled night. Great Sand Dunes Park is also an International Dark Sky Park.

Woman and baby posing with sign at Badwater, Death Valley National Park

Take a photo at Badwater, the lowest place in North America, in Death Valley National Park (Image credit: Getty Images)

11. Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Death Valley is another iconic park that welcomes families and offers a host of great outdoor activities. This destination is very hot in the summer months but many people come to experience the extreme heat. Make sure you are prepared for the heat with sun screen, sun glasses, lightweight clothes that cover bare skin and plenty of drinking water. 

Many parks in the US offer free Junior Ranger booklets and packs and your kids can find these at any Death Valley National Park Visitor Center.

Activities include walks with a park ranger, moonlight hikes, wildlife spotting and Golden canyon where you explore lots of side canyons and sand dunes. Make sure you  take a selfie by the sign at Badwater, which is the lowest place in North America. 

Man sledding down dune at White Sands National Park while two children watch

New Mexico's White Sands National Park is the place for sand sledding (Image credit: Getty Images)

12. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands is one of the newest of America’s national parks and was upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park in 2020. For families, hiking in the sand dunes is popular, while few adults and kids can resist the opportunity for dune sledding, too. 

There are cycling and driving routes, or how about riding a horse through the park? More than anything, though, you will all enjoy the fantastic views. 

Which of these 12 family-friendly US National Parks will you visit?

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.