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11 of the best US National Parks for families

From the deserts of California to the mountains of Colorado, the United States is packed with iconic national parks that are accessible to families of all ages. While the big names like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks have rightly earned their spots on your bucket lists, there are also some lesser-known gems with spectacular nature and family-friendly activities. From Sequoia to Acadia, here are 11 of the best national parks for families in the US.

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1. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

Young family looking at Mount Rushmore

The iconic granite faces of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are the main draw for Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but this site’s not just a quick photo stop. 

A walk through the ponderosa pine forests of the Presidential Trail offers tons of different Mount Rushmore viewpoints on a low-impact half-mile trail. The first leg of the trail leads to the base of the mountain and is handicap accessible, perfect for multigenerational families. 

The Blackberry Trail is slightly longer and moderately strenuous; however, it is pet friendly so you and your pup can enjoy the walk while grandparents and little ones visit the exhibits in the Sculptor’s Studio and Visitor Center.

Explore Mount Rushmore on: National Parks and Native Trails of the Dakotas

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2. Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona

Cacti and mountain range, Sonoran desert national monument, Arizona

Located only 92 miles from Tucson and 53 miles from Phoenix, the Sonoran Desert National Monument is practically begging for a family day trip. 

The park is filled with a fascinating blend of history, culture and nature. You can explore archaeological sites and ancient petroglyphs, spot wildlife like roadrunners and coyotes, and admire the diverse landscapes from saguaro cactus forests to rocky mountains.

Go driving, hiking or biking through the area, or stay until nightfall for stargazing. The remote location and minimal light pollution makes the Sonoran Desert an outstanding place to watch the stars, and there are ranger-led programs available to guide you through the constellations.

Explore the Sonoran Desert on: America’s Great Desert National Parks

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3. Sequoia National Park, California

Young toddler walking through a giant redwood forest

With it’s enormous sequoia trees and abundant wildlife, this national park is a wonderland for families. You can spend hours wandering through the forest and gazing up at these beautiful giants. Don’t miss the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on Earth by volume.

If you can tear your eyes away, you might be able to spot some fascinating wildlife like foxes, skunks, bears, badgers, beavers, deer, coyotes and more. There are plenty of accessible trails like the Congress Trail, and lots of beautiful scenery like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, deep canyons, Moro Rock and the crystal-clear waters of Crescent Meadows.

It’s an unforgettable destination for families looking to witness the beauty of some of the oldest and largest living things on our planet.

Explore Sequoia National Park on: California’s Great National Parks

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4. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

sandstone formations Goblin Valley State Park in Utah

Disc golf and dark skies — what more could you ask for in Utah’s wilderness?

Goblin Valley State Park may have steep competition surrounding it (including Arches and Zion National Parks), but it’s a worthy stop on any national park vacation for families. The strange landscape is dotted with sandstone goblins which are mushroom-shaped rock formations that give this otherworldly state park its unusual name.

Reassure your kids that they won’t find a single grotesque gremlin hiding in the canyons, but they will find fun. Along with mountain biking and hiking, a 20-hole disc golf course offers a few hours of active exploration. Holes 1-11 are mostly flat and link to a short hiking trail that leads right to the parking lot. Holes 12-20 are a bit more challenging with steep climbs and winding dunes.

Goblin Valley also has one of the darkest night skies on the planet. So even if disc golf isn’t on the agenda, jaw-dropping views of the Milky Way are only a short detour from your hotel.  

Explore Goblin Valley State Park on: Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks

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5. Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

Red sandstone cliffs, Kodachrome basin national park, Utah

We like to think of Kodachrome Basin State Park as the cool cousin of Bryce Canyon National Park. It has a similar landscape to neighboring Bryce, but there’s just something more astounding about the way Kodachrome Basin’s red-tinged rocks stand beautifully beneath the bright blue sky.

With fewer crowds, Kodachrome Basin State Park is a welcome addition to any national park vacation for families. Park hours last until well into the night which means you can beat the heat without being rushed to beat a 5pm closure.

The visitor center has loads of full-day fun to rent including corn hole, giant Jenga, e-bikes, and mountain bikes with helmets. You can also find food options like hot dogs and tacos.

Explore Kodachrome Basin State Park on: Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A mother holding her young child looking out over the Grand Canyon

As the largest canyon in the world (bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware), the immense scale of the Grand Canyon is hard to comprehend until you see it for yourself. 

Your family will be in awe as they gaze over this enormous canyon. The South Rim, more accessible for families, has several lookout points and visitor centers, so you can admire the breathtaking views and learn more about the canyon’s geology and history. 

The park’s Junior Ranger Program is a hit with kids, and they can earn a badge by completing fun, educational activities. Families can head out on ranger-led talks and walks, or take a historic train ride on the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, to the South Rim. 

If your family wants to turn it up a notch, you can also go on self-led hikes into the canyon or rafting trips on the Colorado River.

Explore the Grand Canyon on: Scenic Parks Explorer

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7. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia’s compact size and variety of landscapes makes it one of the best national parks for families. You can explore the beaches, rugged coastline and rocky cliffs, then head inland to the forest trails and mountain peaks. 

The park’s carriage roads are closed to cars, so you can bike or walk with kids in a safer environment. There are plenty of easy hikes with stunning views, like the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail. 

You can also explore tide pools and see the incredible marine life at low tide, like  sea stars, lobsters, and anemones. You might even spot seals, porpoises and whales off the coast.

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8. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

A mother bear and cubs walking in green grass

As the first national park in the world, Yellowstone is full of rich history and protected natural treasures, including abundant wildlife, spouting geysers and bubbling hot springs.

The park’s boardwalks and trails offer safe viewing of geothermal wonders, like the iconic Old Faithful geyser. Families can also hike to see waterfalls and travertine cascades. You might also spot animals like bison, elk, and bears in their natural habitat from a safe distance.

Your family can join educational programs led by rangers to get an insight into the park’s unique geology and ecosystems. The Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs also offer kids hands-on learning experiences, including using scientific equipment to study the park’s geothermal features.

Explore Yellowstone on: Western Frontiers

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9. Zion National Park, Utah

pebbly stream running through a large canyon in Zion National Park

Zion stands out for its stunning canyons, spectacular views and family-friendly hikes. The park’s free shuttle service makes it easy to access major sites without the hassle of parking. 

The Riverside Walk, also known as the Gateway to the Narrows, is a flat, paved trail suitable for all ages, offering close-up views of the Virgin River and canyon walls. 

For families looking for a bit more adventure, the Emerald Pools trail offers a relatively easy hike to beautiful waterfalls and clear pools. You can also try to spot the famous bighorn sheep that roam around the park

Explore Zion National Park on: Five Epic National Parks

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10. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Man in a red coat standing with arms outstretched looking over a snowy mountainous landscape

The Rocky Mountain National Park makes it easy to explore spectacular high altitudes with your kids. 

There are over 350 miles of hiking trails accessible for all ages and abilities, ranging from lakeside strolls to mountain climbs. Your family can explore a fascinating alpine world, with lush meadows and clear mountain lakes, or take part in ranger-led programs for a deeper insight into the park’s environment.

You can even experience the park’s beauty from the comfort of your car, with the Trail Ridge Road offering breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys. 

Explore Rocky Mountain National Park on: Welcome to Colorado

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11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

river running through autumn foliage in Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains is not just the most visited national park in the US. It’s also one of the best national parks for families. The beloved Smoky Mountains are a treasure trove of natural and cultural history. There’s so many things to do, from exploring historic homesteads to going on scenic drives like Cades Cove. 

The park has hundreds of miles of trails suitable for all abilities where you can explore mountains, meadows and waterfalls. You can also learn about Southern Appalachian mountain culture here. 

For something extra special, you could try to get a coveted pass for the Synchronous Fireflies event. Every year around June, thousands of fireflies put on a dazzling light show in the Elkmont area. There are limited passes, issued by the National Park Service on a lottery basis. However, you could still visit outside the regulated viewing dates for a chance to spot some early or late fireflies. 

What do you think are the best national parks for families in the US? Let us know in the comments below!

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