5 Top National Parks for Families

Jocelyn Murray June 2, 2011 No Comments

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National Parks have delighted families for generations with their natural beauty. Offering so much to see and do, these parks are a wonderful venue for families to bond, learn and grow together in the splendor of nature itself. The parks below (listed alphabetically) are 5 of the best national parks in the United States, and were chosen for their intriguing significance and family-friendly nature, offering suitable activities for people of all ages.

Carlsbad Caverns Green Lake Room

Carlsbad Caverns Green Lake Room

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
3225 National Parks Hwy
Carlsbad, NM 88220
(505) 785-2232

Hidden below the rugged landscape in southeastern New Mexico, lies a series of large underground chambers carved out by water and sulfuric acid that slowly dissolved the limestone in the buried rock reef that is millions of years old. Over time, the resulting cavern was filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and other intriguing formations made by calcite deposits. Who would have ever thought that the rough terrain above – strewn with rocks, cactus and shrubs – concealed a treasure beneath.

Carlsbad Caverns Formations

Carlsbad Caverns Formations

Carlsbad Caverns encompasses more than 117 known caves. Visitors can hike on foot or take the elevator below and see some of the many caves, a few of which include the Big Room (or Hall of the Giants) – the cavern’s largest chamber about 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 350 feet at its highest point; the Green Lake Room – named for its pool in the chamber’s corner; Chocolate High – a maze of small passages totaling about a mile; and the Queen’s Chamber – considered the most beautiful and scenic area of the cave. About 1 million bats take refuge in the Carlsbad Caverns, sleeping together during the day on the ceiling of Bat Cave, and leaving the cave by night in a huge dramatic throng.

carlsbad caverns crystal calcite

Carlsbad Caverns - a cascade of crystal calcite in the form of a frozen waterfall

Open year-round except December 25, general admission tickets can be purchased for adults 16 and older (children 15 and younger are free) and allow access to 2 self-guided trails. Guided tours are also available and can be purchased separately. There is dining, restrooms and drinking fountains in the underground lunchroom and on the surface’s visitor center.

A marvel of nature, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the top national parks in the USA, which families will enjoy exploring together.

Everglades -  cypress trees covered by climbing ferns

Cypress trees covered by climbing ferns

Everglades National Park, Florida
40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, FL 33034
(305) 242-7700

Home to the elusive Florida panther, the American crocodile, the West Indian manatee, a myriad of tropical wading birds, reptiles, and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, Everglades National Park is located on the southern tip of Florida, and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. This interconnected network of marshland and forest ecosystems is teeming with countless species of wildlife. At 2,500 square miles, it is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states.

Although the park is open year-round, winter is the best time to go, as the weather is comfortable and mosquitoes are least active. This park is a treasure trove of all sorts of outdoor fun activities. Go hiking along any of the numerous trails, paddling through the shady mangrove tunnels on a canoe or kayak, boating along the stunning coastlines, open ponds and lakes, or take a ranger guided tour and learn about the intricate habitats of the park. There are no accommodations at the park, but camping is available at the various campgrounds, and is a wonderful opportunity to hear the nightly chorus of the crickets as the park’s nocturnal inhabitants awaken.

Everglades - american alligator

Everglades - american alligator

The park is accessible from different areas, with visitor centers that provide a range of tours and programs, various rentals, informational brochures, orientation films, educational displays, and snacks and restrooms. Some areas of the park require an entrance fee, and the paid parking is good for 7 consecutive days.

Everglades - mangroves

Everglades - mangroves

With its dense mangroves, marshes, and tropical fauna, Everglades National Park offers many exciting adventures for families to discover.

Grand Canyon - South Rim View

Grand Canyon - South Rim View

Grand Canyon, Arizona
Village Loop Rd
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
(928) 638-7888

One of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, the Grand Canyon encompasses over 1.2 million acres of semi-arid land consisting of raised plateaus and structural basins, carved out by the Colorado River. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point, 15 miles at its widest, and 277 miles long. The Grand Canyon is a significant resource of geological features including its immense fossil record, and paleontological, archeological and biological reserves found in its many caves.

There is plenty to see and experience at the Grand Canyon. From hiking along numerous trails such as the historic Hermit Road, walking the Trail of Time and learning about the canyon’s geologic history, taking guided tours, helicopter tours, mule trips, whitewater rafting, and more. The Tusayan Ruin and Museum offers a fascinating glimpse of Pueblo Indian life some 800 years ago. Visitors can also climb up the 70 foot tall stone watchtower Desert View Point (a historic replica of the prehistoric towers found on the Colorado Plateau, and the highest point on the South Rim).

Grand Canyon - Yavapai Observation Station

Grand Canyon - Yavapai Observation Station

The Grand Canyon is accessible at the North and South Rims. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and has a variety of museums and information centers with exhibits. Camping, lodging, and restaurants are available year round. There is free shuttle service throughout the Grand Canyon Village area, and paid parking at the Visitor Center. The North Rim facilities are open mid-May through mid-October due to weather.

Grand Canyon - ancient pueblo granaries, photo by drenaline

Grand Canyon - ancient pueblo granaries, photo by drenaline

With its magnificent views, geologic history, and endless activities, the Grand Canyon is one of the top national parks for families.

Yosemite - Bridalveil Falls

Yosemite - Bridalveil Falls, photo by Mila Zinkova

Yosemite National Park
9039 Village Dr
Yosemite Natl Pk, CA 95389
(209)372-0200

Roughly chiseled granite cliffs and towering majestic sequoias stand as silent witnesses to time at Yosemite National Park north of Fresno, California. Countless wildlife species and plants find sanctuary in this 1,169 square mile park amid the clear streams, waterfalls, deep valleys and scenic meadows. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is a wilderness shrine in the High Sierra.

Although the park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, some roads are closed due to snow from about November through May or June. Each season has something beautiful to offer, but summer is most popular. With the melting snow, rivers and waterfalls make a splendid sight, such as Yosemite Falls (the tallest in North America), Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil. Lush, fragrant wildflowers bloom in great varieties in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows. Massive granite cliffs and domes such as the 8,842-foot Half Dome, the renowned El Capitan, and the 13,114-foot Mt. Lyell (Yosemite’s tallest peak), inspire a deep reverence.

Yosemite California - sunset on half dome

Yosemite California - sunset on half dome

There is so much to do in Yosemite National Park. From hiking, biking, rock climbing, fishing, horseback riding, water activities, guided tours and more, this park offers something for every season. Winter offers its own activities including skiing and ice skating in a stunning backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty. Visitors can camp at the designated campgrounds, or book lodging accommodations at The Ahwahnee, but advanced reservations are highly recommended for both due to popularity. The park entrance fee is valid for unlimited entries to Yosemite for seven days, and includes all occupants of the car.

Yosemite - Winter Meadow

Yosemite - a winter wonderland - snow covered meadow

A breathtaking manifestation of natural beauty, Yosemite National Park will captivate young and old alike for generations to come.

Zion National Park - Zion Canyon

Zion National Park - Zion Canyon

Zion National Park
Zion National Park, UT 84767
(435)772-3256

Cool waters of the Virgin River flow over stones deep in the canyon’s narrows, winding a graceful path through the soaring sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park in Southwestern Utah. Showcasing some of the most beautiful canyon country in the United States, Zion National Park is a striking tribute to the diverse magnificence of nature. With its forested highlands, lowland deserts, fauna and flora, the wildlife of Zion finds refuge in the park’s serenity.

Life in Zion thrives on the Virgin River, sustaining numerous species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Masterfully adapted to their environment, many animals seek refuge from the day’s heat, only to emerge in the cooler hours of the evening and night. Yet when lightning strikes and thunder rolls, flash floods erupt, boring through the parched canyons with furious exhilaration, renewing life in this canyon oasis.

Virgin River Narrows at Zion National Park

Virgin River Narrows at Zion National Park

Open year round, families will find plenty to do at Zion National Park. The visitor centers and Human History Museum provide lots of information on this haven. There is bicycling, birdwatching, hiking, horseback riding, camping (in several campgrounds), lodging (at Zion Lodge which is open year round), ranger-led activities (which are free), scenic drives, and more. The Zion Shuttle System is free and operates in Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale Utah. All park visitors are required to purchase a recreational use pass upon entering the park. The pass is valid for 7 consecutive days including the date of purchase.

Wall Street Zion narrows in Zion National Park

Wall Street Zion narrows in Zion National Park

Families will be delighted by Zion National Park. With its wide-ranging elevations, landscape, microclimates and habitats, the wild beauty of this sanctuary stands as testament to the enduring spirit of life and nature.

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Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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