Gorgeous National Parks Your Family Will Love
Looking for an outdoor vacation that’s fun for the whole family? Then be sure to check out the U.S. National Park System. National parks throughout the U.S. offer lots of fun activities for children as well as adults, especially during the summer. These three are among the most beautiful.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located in North Carolina and Tennessee, is the most frequently visited park in the United States. Each year, tourists flock there, drawn by the diverse flora and fauna, the beauty of the mountains and the area’s unique Appalachian culture.
Visitors can spend lazy days touring the park by car, taking in the Smoky’s magnificent scenery—tumbling mountain rivers, mighty forestlands—and visiting its historic log cabins, grist mills, schools, churches and barns.
For those who are up to a physical challenge, the park also offers hiking, cycling and horseback riding. There’s fishing, camping and picnicking, too. And with its waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife and scenic vistas, Great Smoky Mountain National Park is ideal for photographers and nature lovers.
The park also has plenty for the kids to do, including numerous spring, summer and fall programs led by park rangers. Additionally, the Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont offers year-round activities for children and families.
The tourist cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are nearby.
Lake of Interest: Lake Fontana
Fontana Lake is a reservoir that lies along Great Smoky Mountain National Park’s southern border in North Carolina. Boaters can reach remote trailheads via Fontana Lake, which provides easy access to the park’s most isolated areas, such as Hazel Creek.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is 416-square miles of action, adventure and good, clean outdoor fun. The setting is definitely unique: it’s a mix of high, higher and really high-elevation terrain complete with subalpine forests, mountain meadows, alpine lakes—and even small glaciers and tundra forests.
At Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors can climb high mountains, swim glacial lakes, fish trout in fast-moving mountain streams, photograph alpine flowers, gaze upon billion-year-old glaciers, hike forests filled with mighty Douglass firs, camp in alpine forests and more. The possibilities are virtually endless.
The park has more than 60 mountains over 12,000 feet tall, including Cirrus, Isolation, Mummy and Storm. And of course there are numerous lakes—dozens of them.
Rocky Mountain National Park also has more than 300 miles of trails for hiking, biking, backpacking and horseback riding. Enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park’s majestic scenery from the comfort a car on Trail Ridge Road. Trail Ridge Road has several overlooks that offer stunning views of incredible landscapes complete with Bighorn sheep, black bear, coyote, elk, moose and ptarmigan.
Lake of Interest: Grand Lake
Grand Lake, called the "Western Gateway" to Rocky Mountain National Park is both a lake and a tourist town that offers year-round lodging, shopping, entertainment and recreation. In winter, boating and fishing on Grand Lake and nearby Shadow Mountain Lake give place to snowshoeing, snowmobiling and Nordic skiing.
Olympic National Park
Washington State’s Olympic National Park is a one million-acre wonder filled with diverse beauty, from ancient rainforests to glaciers. There’s so much to explore! Wide meadows filled with colorful wildflowers, foamy ocean tide pools along the Pacific coast, forested valleys, craggy mountains. No wonder the park bills itself as "three parks in one."
Open year round, Olympic National Park offers numerous outdoor activities the entire family can enjoy: hiking, backpacking, camping, sledding, snowshoeing, fishing and more. The park is super kid-friendly, too, providing little visitors with discovery backpacks and a discovery room, as well as other child-centered activities throughout the year.
Lake of Interest: Flapjack Lakes
The two lakes known as Flapjack Lakes are among the most popular spots in Olympic National Park. In fact, they are so popular that the park limits the number of overnight campers at Flapjack Lakes, so visitors must get a camping permit beforehand. Because the lakes are easy to get to, they’re a great campsite for families with children.