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National Parks To Visit This Year

Written by Kate MacLean

Photography by Image Via The National Park Foundation

Summer may seem daunting when school gets out and you are left with a handful of idle kiddos on your hands. After all, there are only so many times you can entertain them with a trip to the local swimming hole and an armful of ice cream sandwiches! As decadent and classic a summer-treat as that may be, why not instead take the opportunity that summer allows to introduce your kids to a very old and timeless American tradition: exploring our national parks. You can enroll your little future hikers in the Junior Rangers Program, whose motto “Explore, Learn, Protect!” and the accompanying activities, will serve as a wonderful introduction to our national treasures. With a visit to the parks, your kid can complete the activities specific to each one, and then find a ranger to share with them their results. Kids can collect badges from all the parks, too. As with any adventure in the wilderness, however, it is important to bring your common sense and general precautions when planning a trip. Most of these parks are left intentionally wild. Respect the wildness, leave no trace, use prudence, and have a whole lot of fun.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: The caverns that lend this park its name are the site to see here. You can do self-guided tours of these huge caves, or take a ranger-lead one to help answer what is sure to be a long-string of questions from your kiddo. Formed from limestone dissolved by sulfuric acid, there are 119 caves in total. From May to October, every night, you can also join the rangers for the Bat Flight Program where your family can learn all about the bats that live in the caves and watch as the little guys take flight for a night of bug-feasting.

Everglades National Park: Home to over 200,000 alligators and many endangered and exotic birds, this is a part of Florida that gets oft overlooked for the more man-made creations of entertainment. You can rent a guide and an airboat to zoom around and see all of the hidden wildlife among the Everglades. This way, you get the thrilling rides of Disney World without all of the crowds, candy, and plastic.

White Sands National Monument: By far the most popular thing to do with kids at this park is sand-sledding. The soft white sand feels and looks like snow, but you get to wear shorts and a t-shirt instead of many pounds of down and wool. Sleds can be purchased at the gift shop. You can also horseback ride and back-country camp with your little ones. The national monument is not without its own dangers, however; the area is at risk for sand-storms and the U.S. Government does test missiles nearby. Check the weather and alerts before starting your day.

Yellowstone: All the mega flora and fauna of this park make it a must-see for every family that has the ability to get out to this remote corner of the country. You may spend a good hour waiting for a herd of bison to clear the road, and in the evening you can “chase” the wolves with a pack of amateur and professional scientists that track their movements every night. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from noon until 3 p.m. you can take part in the Wildlife Olympics where kids can test their nature-knowledge and engage in fun, park-themed games lead by the Rangers.

Acadia National Park: Visit this part of Maine in the height of summer for a break from the city and suburban heat. July is peak month for wild blueberries, and here you and the kids can live out your Blueberries for Sal bucolic fantasies. There is a free shuttle that stops regularly all over the park, so you don’t have to worry about the kids getting too tired on you. Try Sand Beach for a relaxing swim and lounge after all that hiking.

Arches National Park: This is like a jungle gym for older kiddos. You can’t help but channel your inner Parkour star bouncing off the stunning red rocks. There are ranger-lead kid walks for five years and up that will have your kids jumping over small crevices, walking along steep drop offs, and hiking over the irregular rocky paths. This is a far cry from the injury-free playgrounds of your neighborhood, but they are hikes that foster a trust and independence that your kids won’t soon forget.

For more even fun things to do with your family this summer, be sure to check out Our Summer Bucket List

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