10 Fun National Park Activities for Kids

Sure, you can take your kids hiking, fishing or camping in a national park, but if you really want to wow them, take them on a helicopter ride into the Grand Canyon or go sledding with them down sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Take a look at 10 of the coolest ways kids can explore our national parks this year.

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Deer are among the many animals you can spot in Washington's Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Owls may also give you a long look in Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Bighorn sheep are among the largest animals in Montana's Glacier National Park. 960 1280

  

Watch out! In Florida's Everglades National Park, the crocodiles have big mouths. 960 1280

  

For elk-watching, you can't go wrong at Glacier, Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. 960 1280

  

There are many places to see moose. Try Yellowstone, Katmai, King Salmon, Grand Teton, Isle Royale or Denali National Park 960 1280

  

Golden Eagles soar at Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Go north to Glacier Bay or Katmai National Park in Alaska for a sea otter fix. 960 1280

  

Grizzly bears and their cubs hang out in Denali, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks. 960 1280

  

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are the places to go for bison-watching. 960 1280

  

Caribou roam at Katmai and Denali National Parks. 960 1280

  

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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Remote river in Gates of the Arctic) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Noatak River) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions.  960 1280

By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. 960 1280
North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Stargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. 960 1280

By Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA (Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The waters around the islands are filled with coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life that are perfect for a snorkeling trip.  960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Scuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, so leave your car behind, and set sail from Houghton or Cooper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Once there, get ready for a day of backcountry hiking or navigating the lakes, bays and islands in a kayak or canoe. If you're not an experienced paddler, avoid the frigid water and possible squalls on a guided boat tour. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

To extend your trip, spend the night at the Rock Harbor Lodge, found in the island's northeast corner, with simple rooms and cottages overlooking the lake. 960 1280
Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Visit the Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where George Washington was appointed command in chief of the Continental Army in 1775; the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776; the design of the American Flag was agreed upon in 1776; and the US Constitution was drafted in 1787. 960 1280

techfun, Flickr  

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Take a tour to see the 2,080-pound Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. A group of abolitionists adopted the Bible verse inscription and the Bell as a symbol of their cause to abolish slavery -- the first to call it the “Liberty Bell.” Built in London, England, the Bell was retired -- 2 cracks later -- after the final fatal crack during George Washington’s birthday celebration in 1846. 960 1280

Getty Images  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

American author Edgar Allan Poe lived in several houses while living in Philadelphia from 1837 to 1844, but this is the only one that remains standing. National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour or you can tour the residence on your own and see the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influence other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

Midnightdreary, Wikimedia Commons  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site or you can tour the residence on your own. See the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influenced other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

RTLibrary, Flickr  

Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace

Passing through Elverson, PA? Then make a stop at the Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site, a 19th century rural iron plantation, which includes a blast furnace, ironmaster’s house, blacksmith’s shop, company store and several worker’s houses. Ironmaster Mark Bird founded Hopewell Furnace in 1771. A shift in iron-making techniques changed causing the site to halt its operations in 1883. 960 1280

Sdwelch1031, Wikimedia Commons  

Valley Forge

Valley Forge

Travel to Valley Forge, PA. See the military camp of the American Continental Army from 1777 to 1778, during the American Revolutionary War. Explore the Park’s trails Washington Memorial Chapel, National Memorial Arch and Isaac Potts’ house, General George Washington’s Headquarters (pictured) in the winter of 1777. 960 1280

  

Valley Forge Railroad Station

Valley Forge Railroad Station

The Valley Forge Train Station is also part of the National Park Site. The Reading Railroad completed the station in 1911. It was the point of entry into the park for travelers who came by rail through the 1950s, from Philadelphia. The station overlooks the site of Washington’s Headquarters. 960 1280

Doris Rapp, Flickr  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia is the oldest church in Pennsylvania, and among the oldest in the US. The church, built between 1698 and 1700 for Swedish settlers, was initially a Swedish Lutheran Church for almost 150 years before it became part of the Episcopal Church in 1845. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMC  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Nils Collin, a Swedish pastor who served Gloria Dei from 1784 to 1831, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, the remains of an early lightening rod -- visible on the church’s exterior -- are the result of their relationship. Collin remained neutral in the Revolutionary War. Rumor has it that his extensive writings about the King of Sweden are buried under the floor of the church. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMCS  

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Explore the life of Thaddeus Kosciuszko at this National Park Site. The Polish freedom fighter was instrumental in engineering military structures and forts to hold off British troops during the American Revolution. History buffs can visit his preserved home on 301 Pine Street in Philly to see where he met infamous visitors, including Thomas Jefferson and Chief Little Turtle. 960 1280

Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC  

Deshler-Morris House

Deshler-Morris House

The Germantown White House aka the Deshler-Morris House is the oldest official presidential residence. The historic mansion, located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, was shelter for US President George Washington when the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 struck the city. The following year, President Washington and his family returned to the house for a summer vacation. The house takes its name from the first owner, David Deshler, and the last owner, Elliston P. Morris. 960 1280

Historic Germantown, Flickr  

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

When you first see El Tovar lodge on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, transcendentalism may occur. You could be metaphysically transported to 1905 when guests arrived by carriage or perhaps just back to your sofa and another rerun of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Both things happened here. Named for Spanish explorer and conquistador Pedro de Tovar, the Swiss/rustic chalet was constructed to accommodate tourists traveling on the Santa Fe Railway. The lodge’s steam heat, electricity, comfortable beds and freshly grown vegetables were unique luxuries for the time. El Tovar still strives to carry on finer traditions. Even if the rooms are all taken ($215 -$500), a visit to the lounge is a must. If you’d rather commune with nature, hikers swear by the pet-friendly Mather Campground ($18). 960 1280

  

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Nature lovers, architectural purists and people obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” all have the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park on their bucket list – as it should be. Built to woo the wealthy and influential, the Grand Dame of the NPS is a structural wonder and once hosted Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable and Gertrude Stein, to name a few. At least take a seat in the lobby and enjoy the piano player, who is rumored to accommodate the most obscure requests. Depending on the season, rooms can cost upwards of $500 a night.  960 1280

Buyenlarge  

Best Camping in Yosemite

Best Camping in Yosemite

To the south of the Ahwahnee is Bridalveil Creek Campground, one of our favorite destinations for its proximity to the waterfalls and creek. The crowds are also a little lighter than other camping facilities and it has flushing toilets. Hey, it’s the little things. Sites start at $18 a night and the horse-riding set can hitch up Trigger for an additional $30. 960 1280

  

Pay for the View in Glacier

Pay for the View in Glacier

The Many Glacier Hotel is unique for myriad reasons, including its historic one-of-a-kind parkitecture, unparalleled convenience to the national park’s outdoor activities and jaw-dropping views of Swiftcurrent Lake. Additionally, unlike your favorite Hampton Inn, there are no in-room TVs or air conditioning. 

 

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Scott Temme  

Or Get Away in Glacier

Or Get Away in Glacier

The Cracker Campground is a six-mile hike from the Many Glacier Hotel with a 6,000-foot ascent into backcountry. The park requires that requests be submitted online prior to your arrival. Take nothing away and leave nothing behind and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with the experience of a lifetime.

 

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High Life in Death Valley

High Life in Death Valley

Those seeking a high thread count and resort-style amenities should look no further than the four-diamond 66-room Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It boasts an 18-hole golf course (the world’s lowest if you’re into that sort of thing), an airstrip, tennis courts and a sparkling pool. The cocktail lounge’s expansive windows provide (literally) epic views of the desert and we hear the G&Ts are especially refreshing after a day of 0% humidity. Rooms are from $309 to upwards of $600. 960 1280

Scott Temme  

Or Desert Trailer Park

Or Desert Trailer Park

Attention all glampers: Death Valley van camping is fast becoming the ALT Burning Man with large groups of caravans taking over the RV spots for weekends of desert frolic. Clocking in at roughly 3.4 million acres, that’s plenty of parking space. The bold and the hydrated are rewarded with mysterious sliding rocks, a wacky castle in the middle of nowhere and real ghost towns. Camping at Furnace Creek is $18 a night and four pets per site are permitted. Nearby park concessioner Stovepipe Wells has 14 RV sites with hookups for $33 a night and 190 campsites for $12 a night. There’s also a pool and showers. 960 1280

  

Keys to the Kingdom

Keys to the Kingdom

We’ve taken you to the far west, now let’s turn our attention to the southern extremes. As there are no federally run hotels or sanctioned concessioners at Dry Tortugas National Park, may we suggest Key West’s historic Casa Marina, which opened its storied doors on New Year’s Eve in 1920. Three days later, President Warren G. Harding came to visit and in 22 years the U.S. Navy acquired it and consequently used the facilities as officer's quarters for the duration of World War II. In the 50s, Casa Marina reestablished itself as a luxury hotspot hosting Gregory Peck, Ethel Merman and golden girl Rita Hayworth. The champagne corks have been popping ever since. When you’re ready to rough it, the concierge will gladly arrange everything you need to hop over to the nearby “people’s beach.” 960 1280

Thomas Hart Shelby  

Your Private Archipelago

Your Private Archipelago

Now that you’ve seen the splendor in the grass, may we suggest a splurge on the sand. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the often-overlooked treasures on the parks roster. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, camping on its sandy shores is a unique and memorable experience. You’ll enjoy world-class snorkeling, bird watching and turtle spotting, or just relaxing in a hammock. Camping fees are only $15 per night and the ferry is $10. Keep in mind that there’s no snack bar, no fresh water source and no bathrooms. In the laid-back spirit that defines Key West, pets are permitted on Garden Key and boaters are welcome to drop anchor and enjoy the island with proper permits, which are free and can be picked up at Garden Key. 960 1280

  

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