Best National Parks for Families

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

The United States of America is a beautiful country, home to some of the most beautiful natural areas I have seen anywhere in the world. Lucky for us, many of these areas of beauty have been protected to allow families to enjoy these wonders for generations to come. We have visited many of these beautiful places with our kids and are eager to share with you our list of the best national parks for families in the US.

Kids hiking on vacation in Shenandoah National Park Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park.

Top 10 Best National Parks for Kids

1. Zion Canyon National Park – Utah

The competition is fierce, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each and every park on this list, but my personal favorite US national park is Zion Canyon National Park. We were fortunate enough to visit Zion Canyon with our kids as part of a 3-week family road trip through Utah.

Dan Brewer, hikes the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park with his kids during a family road trip to Utah.

There are so many things I love about visiting Zion Canyon National Park. The magnificent canyon scenery throughout the park is always on display, but it goes beyond that. There are so many fun things to do with kids in Zion National Park that it kept us busy and entertained for days.

There’s a fun family activity in Zion for every age and skill level. The paved and flat Pa’rus Trail, runs through the heart of Zion Canyon, making it the perfect walking trail for all ages. On the opposite end of the national park is the Riverside Trail – another easy walk in Zion Canyon, with incredible scenery.

Celine Brewer, owner of Family Can, walks on the Pa'rus Trail during a family vacation to Zion National Park.
Pa’rus Trail.

When we visited Zion Canyon with kids, they were already good little hikers, so we were able to enjoy some moderate hiking trails as well. Our favorite family hike in Zion was the Watchman Trail, where we saw the majestic California condors soaring overhead. Other favorite family hikes include walking behind a waterfall on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail and a fun family hike on the Northgate Peaks Trail in a lesser known part of the national park.

a young boy on a family trip to Zion National Park hikes the The Watchman Trail.
Our son hiking the Watchman Trail.

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It’s hard to describe the many wonders of Zion Canyon in just a few paragraphs. Check out our post on visiting Zion Canyon National Park with kids to find out why it’s our favorite park in the US.

2. Shenandoah National Park – Virginia

We were fortunate enough to visit Shenandoah National Park as part of our Appalachian Mountain family road trip. The drive on Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park is one of the most scenic drives in the United States. But, what makes Shenandoah one of the best national parks for families is the fun stops along the way.

Celine Brewer, sits with her kids at a viewpoint on Millers Head Trail on a family trip to Shenandoah with kids.

We enjoyed a ton of family friendly hikes in Shenandoah. Some of our favorites included a spooky hike through the fog on the Stony Man Trail, and a fun walk through the woods to the amazing Dark Hollow Falls.

Dan Brewer, hikes with his daughter on the Black Rock Summit Trail during a family road trip in Shenandoah National Park.

But, the best thing to do in Shenandoah National Park with kids is the signature Whiteoak Canyon Trail. This super fun, family hiking trail follows the path of a beautiful creek along the bottom of a scenic canyon.

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Shenandoah is so beautiful and fun to visit with kids. Get all the details on the best easy hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park for your family visit.

3. White Sands National Park – New Mexico

We’ve been fortunate enough to visit White Sands National Park with our kids on two occasions now. We simply love the incredibly unique landscapes here and would return here again and again.

One of the natural treasures of New Mexico, White Sands is one of the best national parks for families due to the massive white sand dunes – the largest of their kind in the world.

A family runs down a sand dune at White Sands National Park in New Mexico.

There is a lot of hype about sledding on the sand at White Sands National Park, but in our opinion, it is very overrated. If you want a truly fun family experience in White Sands, take your shoes and socks off and go for a fun family hike through the incredibly soft white sand dunes.

If your family is up for it, the best hike through White Sands National Park is the Alkali Flat Trail. We recently did this hike barefoot through the amazing sand dunes and it’s a memory our family will have forever.

a girl empties all the sand out of her shoes after playing on the dunes at White Sands national park.

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There’s so much more to this amazing US national park. Check out our post on the many fun things to do at White Sands National Park with kids.  

4. Joshua Tree National Park – California

Speaking of US national parks with unique landscapes, Joshua Tree National Park is amazing. We visited Joshua Tree National Park with our kids as part of a family trip to Palm Springs. These two family-friendly destinations in Southern California are the perfect pairing for a family vacation.

We had fun exploring every single corner of Joshua Tree National Park with kids. With so many awesome boulder formations throughout the park, kids just love climbing up, over and around them on family hikes. Our kids’ favorite trail was the Skull Rock Trail, which had nearly endless adventure opportunities.

Joshua Tree family vacation ideas - Ryan Mountain hike with kids.

The Joshua Trees themselves are amazing, but if you visit Joshua Tree National Park on a sunny day, swing by and see the Cholla Cactus Garden. The sight of these beautiful cacti glowing in the sunlight is incredible.

For unique family friendly hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, try the Cholla Cactus Garden

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There’s so many fun family activities in Joshua Tree National Park. See our full post to help plan your family trip to Joshua Tree National Park.

5. Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah

Bryce Canyon was our first stop on our family road trip through Utah to see the Mighty 5 national parks. We instantly fell in love with the incredible hoodoos and natural amphitheaters which are found throughout this beautiful park.

A young boy on a family trip to Utah enjoys the views of Bryce Canyon National Park.

There are many great family hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park, but our favorite was the Queens Garden Trail. This is a moderately difficult family hike, but you are amply rewarded with one of the most scenic family hikes you will ever do.

We loved how the Queen’s Garden Trail winds its way through some of the most scenic parts of the national park. Being at the bottom of some of the rock formations gives you a true sense of their size.

hiking with kids Queen's Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park Utah.
Queen’s Garden Trail.

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Bryce Canyon is one of the best US national parks. Plan your family trip to Bryce Canyon National Park by reading all about our family adventures.

6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park – New Mexico

I’m trying to make this a list of the best US national parks from top-to-bottom, but it’s incredibly hard. I can’t believe Carlsbad Caverns National Park is this far down the list – it could easily be the #1 best national park in the US! This goes to show how close the competition is for the best national park for families in the US.

Simply put, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is incredible. I swear my jaw was wide open the entire time we were inside this natural wonder.

The adventure begins as you walk down, down, down into the enormous mouth of the main Carlsbad Cavern. Every kid in the world will be excited about this descent into the belly of the earth.

Two kids run down the long, fun ramp into the mouth of the cave at Carlsbad Caverns, NM.

Once underground, the natural wonders come fast and furious. The amazing rock formations along the tunnel and the incredible rooms within the caverns will take your family’s breath away. I’m not a skilled enough writer to describe the beauty of this place – you just need to come and share it with your kids and see for yourself what I’m talking about.

A massive stalagmite next to the self-guided our walking trail in Carlsbad Caverns.

Unlike the other US national parks on  this list, it’s more of a day trip as opposed to a place you can base an entire family vacation around. Thankfully, it you want to make it a New Mexico road trip, White Sands National Park is within easy reach.

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We loved our day trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Read our post to get all the details about visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids.

7. Arches National Park – Utah

Another amazing US national park on our family road trip through Utah, Arches National Park is a very special place. Even if you do nothing more than drive through the park, you’ll easily see why it belongs on our list of the best US national parks for families.

landscape arch in arches national park
Landscape Arch.

Of course, being an active family, we encourage you to get out of your car and enjoy the many kid-friendly hiking trails in Arches National Park. As with many of the national parks on this list, the opportunities for kids to monkey around, climbing up rocks, etc. are endless in Arches.

The Delicate Arch Trail is a must-do family hike in Arches National Park, but there are many other fun family hikes within the park. My personal favorite was the Park Avenue Trail, which runs through a valley in the shadow of one of the most incredible rock formations I have ever seen.

A family hikes the Park Avenue Trail in Arches National Park, Utah.
Park Avenue Trail.

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We had an incredible time exploring the natural wonders of Arches. Read our post and get some inspiration for your own family trip to Arches National Park.

8. Capitol Reef National Park – Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is arguably the least famous of the Mighty 5 national parks in Utah. As such, I had pretty low expectations for it, but to be honest, we were all blown away by its beauty. Utah really should be ashamed of itself for hogging so much natural beauty for itself!

two young kids on a family trip to Utah enjoy a hike in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

We love to avoid crowds, so one of the things we liked most about Capitol Reef National Park is that it is less crowded than the rest of the Mighty 5. As with all the amazing US national parks on this list, there’s some excellent family-friendly activities to enjoy.

Hickman’s Bridge was probably our favorite family hike in the national park, but the competition was pretty steep. A testament to how much fun these hikes are for kids, we set a family distance record while hiking the Frying Pan Trail. We weren’t sure if they could hike the full thing, but they were having so much fun that they barely noticed how far they went!

Dan and Celine Brewer, owners of, stand under Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
Hickman Bridge.

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Capitol Reef is a truly beautiful destination for a family holiday. In addition to all the fun family activities, there’s also some amazing freshly baked fruit pies! Get all the details in our post on visiting Capitol Reef with kids.

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the next stop on our family road trip through the Appalachian Mountains. As Canadians, we didn’t know much about the Smokies, but when we read that it was by far the most visited national park in the United States, we wanted to visit and find out why.

Celine Brewer hikes Porters Creek Trail during a family trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Porters Creek Trail.

For our family vacation to the great Smoky Mountains National Park, we based ourselves in Gatlinburg, TN. We were amazed at the amount of family-friendly attractions in Gatlinburg! But, we mostly resisted these tourist attractions and focused on enjoying ourselves in the natural beauty of the national park.

The highlight of our family trip to the Smokies was the day we spent hiking around the summit of Clingman’s Dome (the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi). Yes, you can drive to the summit, but we parked halfway up and enjoyed some truly amazing hiking.

Dan Brewer hikes to Clingmans Dome with his kids in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Clingman’s Dome.

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We share all of our family activities in our blog post to help you plan a family trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

10. Canyonlands National Park – Utah

Last, but truly not least, on our list of the best national parks for families is the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Located right across the highway from Arches National Park, staying in Moab and visiting these two parks together is a perfect destination for a family holiday.

A young boy on a family trip to Utah looks though the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park.
Our son looks through Mesa Arch.

Truthfully, we didn’t explore Canyonlands as much as I would have liked. Arches National Park was just so beautiful and fun with the kids, that we spent most of our time there. But we did have a really fun day here.

The easy hike on the Mesa Arch Trail was a good introduction to the size and beauty of Canyonlands National Park. Our favorite family hike in the national park, and perhaps in all of Utah, was the Slickrock Trail in the Needles area. There were so many fun rock formations for the kids to climb and the non-stop views of Canyonlands were incredible.

A young girl hikes the Slickrock trail in the Needles area of Canyonlands national park utah.

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Discover the many fun things to do in this Mighty 5 national park in our post on visiting Canyonlands with kids.

Bonus: Banff National Park, Canada

Ok, ok…  I know that this is primarily a list of the best national parks for families in the US, but there’s a national park just across the border in Canada I think your family will love. Banff National Park is quite possibly the most beautiful place in North America, and is a mountain playground for kids of all ages.

Dan Brewer hikes Sunshine Meadows with kids in Banff National Park, Canada.

The list of things to do in Banff with kids is nearly endless. The best kid-friendly hike in Banff is Johnston’s Canyon – an incredibly fun hike up elevated boardwalks through a narrow, waterfall filled canyon. Taking a gondola up to a viewpoint on Sulphur Mountain, or a boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka are also popular family activities in Banff.

For the adventurous, you can look for grizzly bears on the Lake Louise summer gondola, or go for a walk on a glacier at the Icefields Parkway. Or simply relax and soak in the views from the Banff Upper Hot Springs.

Celine Brewer, of walks the Moraine Lake shore trail with kids.

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Banff National Park is not just the best place for a family vacation in Canada, it’s also our hometown. We are building a new website all about visiting Banff with kids to share our love of this area with other families.

Junior Ranger Program

Our family has visited a lot of the best national parks in the US, and one thing they all have in common is the Junior Ranger Program. As a Canadian, I truly admire this National Park Service program you have and think it’s a wonderful idea I wish we had up north.

Our kids are happy to have earned their Carlsbad Caverns Junior Ranger badges!

Every time we visit a new US national park, the first thing our kids want to do is stop at the Visitor Center to get their Junior Ranger booklet. The age-appropriate booklets are filled with fun, colorful activities for kids to work on as they visit the national park. We think this is an amazing way to help educate kids about the wonders of the national park, and more importantly, how to protect it.

Our kids work diligently to complete all the necessary assignments within the booklet as they are keen to earn their reward – a Junior Ranger badge for that national park. Our kids have a big collection of Junior Ranger badges and they are among their most treasured possessions.

two small kids work on their National Parks Service Junior Ranger Program activity booklets during a family trip to Zion National Park.
Our kids working on their Zion Junior Ranger booklets.

No matter which of these beautiful US national parks you visit, I strongly encourage you to have your kids participate in the Junior Ranger program as well.

I hope you enjoyed our list of the best national parks for families in the US. We love visiting America’s most beautiful places and we hope you have been inspired to do so as well!

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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).