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Reader Participation Day: Where Are The Best Kid-Friendly Spots in the National Park System?


Where are some of the best spots for kids in the national parks?

When I was working on National Parks With Kids, I encountered a couple with two young children at Acadia National Park. We all were heading up to the top of the Beehive, a nice crag for viewing the park, Frenchman Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Certainly, the trail to the top of the Beehive is no easy walk in the park, as it at times entails climbing hand-over-hand up iron rungs long-ago hammered into granite walls that you need to ascend. When we were resting on the top of the Beehive, I asked then-7-year-old Evan what he liked most about his visit to Acadia. "I liked climbing the mountains," he told me as a smile spread across his face.

Not all 7-year-olds would feel comfortable on the Beehive Trail, but this little anecdote illustrates that national parks can be incredibly attractive to youngsters. Indeed, Evan's parents told me that Acadia "is one of the most kid-friendly parks" in the country.

Where else might that tag apply? Let me point to three other examples, and then you folks add to the list.

* Arches National Park. Not only will this stony landscape pulled out of a Flintstones cartoon delight kids in general, but the sandy area beneath Sand Dune Arch is a perfect place for them to burn off any surplus energy.

* Glacier National Park. The Glacier Institute offers youth-oriented field classes throughout the summer running any where from one to 7 days. These range from map-and-compass classes for tweens to mini camps designed to introduce 7- and 8-year-olds to camping out.

* Biscayne National Park. Snorkeling is just one of the activities kids can get involved with at this sub-tropical paradise. And on the second Sunday of each month from January through May the park hosts Family Fun Fest, a three-hour program designed "for kids and kids-at-heart."

What else should be added to this list?


One of our kids' favorite spots when they were young was the Great Sand Dunes National Park (back then it was still a Monument) outside of Alamosa, Colorado. They loved playing in Medano Creek and experiencing the surges as the water would ebb and flow. When our son, now in College was about 6 he hiked to the top with my husband and loved it! After that year we all would hike to the top of the Dunes when we were there. The scrubby Pinon Pines in the campground were very "climbable" to kids. Just last summer, our son told us how he wants to go back to Colorado and hit the Great Sand Dunes. As kids, everything seems larger and when you revisit those places as an adult, there can be a disappointment. However, the Sand Dunes are SO large that I know he wouldn't be disappointed! It makes you feel good as a parent when you hear your grown children talk about their National Park memories and how they feel the need to go back to certain places!


I agree with Connie that the Great Sand Dunes National Park is great for kids, along with White Sands and Indiana Dunes - all just great big sand boxes! Our kids, now ages 15 and 17, have been to 152 National sites. Some of the sites that stand out as great places for them would include kayaking in Channel Islands, taking a rock climbing class in Joshua Tree, bike riding in Acadia, snorkeling in Dry Tortugas, rafting in Dinosaur, canoeing in Big Thicket, and even when they were quite young, they absolutely loved being in Cabrillo National Monument. During low tide the tide pools were amazing. Very fun for them to explore and discover.

I second Cabrillo NM tide pools, especially for young kids. I've never met a kid who didn't like hermit crabs and the gobies, and there's often a ranger or volunteer there to answer questions and show some of the less obvious stuff. The only drawback is the early closing time, which precludes visiting during the lowest tides in the winter. I suspect that other NPS units have accessible & somewhat intact tide pools.

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