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  • Family Fun! Death Valley Inspires Awe and Wonder

    How to Keep Your Family Happy in a National Park

Follow these insider tips for a fabulous vacation

Among the country’s greatest treasures, national parks are fascinating places, especially for families. The sight of a cascading waterfall, emerald green lake, sun-streaked canyon or towering rock formation creates a sense of awe and wonder. Spotting elk in a clearing, moose along a riverbank, bison in a meadow, or an eagle nesting atop a tree connects kids to nature in truly meaningful ways. But venturing into these natural wonders with your family requires a bit of planning to ensure everyone from the youngest to the oldest has a memorable experience. Here’s how to keep your family happy and safe while exploring the beauty of our national parks.

Family hiking on vacation, standing with arms around, , looking at beautiful gazer. Blue sky in the background. Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, USA,

1. Select Your Top Spots

The parks are vast, so pick the must-see sites that will please the entire family. Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone rate among Yellowstone National Park’s top attractions. At the Grand Canyon, stroll the Rim Trail, hike into the canyon, and take in the views along Desert View Drive. In Zion National Park, ride the shuttle bus for scenic views of Zion Canyon Drive and walk along the river. See the highlights from an iconic Red Bus in Glacier National Park. Tailoring your visit to include these iconic sites ensures you don’t miss the wonders each park is famed for.

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2. Treat the Family to Special Experiences

A guided tour enhances your understanding of the park and adds to the fun. On a Wake Up to Wildlife tour of Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, learn about wolves, mountain goats, bears, and bison as your guide spots the wildlife. With active teens, consider rock-climbing lessons in Rocky Mountain National Park. Take a world-famous mule ride down into the Grand Canyon (riders must be at least 4 feet, 9 inches tall). Wildlife safaris, horseback rides, guided hikes, and rafting tours are just some of the exciting adventures that add exceptional memories to your trip. To avoid any disappointment, make sure to book these well ahead of time!

3. Spend some time alone with each child

Carve out moments for one-on-one adventures. Something as simple as a shared ice cream or a quiet walk can turn into a cherished memory. Vacations are a perfect time to slow down and strengthen bonds with your individual family members.

4. Add action when traveling with teens

Adventure grabs the attention of older children and teenagers. The national parks are playgrounds for moderate to strenuous trails suited just for them. Undertaking these challenges together builds unforgettable memories fueled by shared achievements.

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5. Encourage Your Kids to be Junior Rangers

The Junior Ranger program is a fantastic way for kids to engage deeply with the parks. Through ranger-led sessions and activities, your kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge, a keepsake of their learning and adventures. Program workbooks can be downloaded and printed ahead of time or purchased for a nominal fee at the park.

6. Take Part in Ranger Programs

Ranger programs are treasure troves of information and fun. These activities, usually free, are perfect for family members of all ages. You and your kids can go on guided hikes, listen to talks about the park’s habitats, geology, animals, and rivers, and listen to stories around a campfire.

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7. Enjoy the Simple Pleasures

Go fishing, have a picnic, play in shallow streams, and stroll scenic trails. These moments add up to a sense of accomplishment and joy for young explorers.

8. Discover the Night Sky

Away from the lodges, the night sky dazzles. In the evening, drive to a parking lot or scenic pullout. To be sure no animals are near, sweep the area with a flashlight before you exit the car, or stay in your vehicle and gaze out the window. Either way, you won’t soon forget the dramatic spray of stars in the sky. Death Valley National Park is designated the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country as well as a Gold Tier Park by DarkSky International. Stargazing is an awe-inspiring experience, and a memorable way to end your day.

9. Eat at Cafeterias and Stop for Treats

The ample choices and quick meals at the park’s cafeterias please kids who want more time outside than inside. Don’t forget to schedule an afternoon treat, such as an ice cream break that everyone will look forward to.

10. Stay Safe

Remind your kids about rules. At Yellowstone’s geothermal features, walk only on the boardwalks and never, ever put a finger or anything else in the thermal features. At all parks, keep a safe distance from wild animals — 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other animals. Never walk or climb on walls or guardrails that separate you from the scenery. And always hike safely: wear proper shoes, sunhats, and sunscreen; carry water and snacks; and don’t exceed your limits.

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