There’s no vacation as quintessentially American as touring one of our national parks. These five family-friendly hikes in our nation's greatest treasure will help you choose destinations that work for kids of all ages.
There’s no understating the power of a national park experience. The beauty and majesty of the American wilderness resonates in the soul of people young and old, and crosses racial, spiritual, economic, and experiential barriers. Many parents, especially those who tooled around the United States on long car rides as kids, simply can’t wait to bring their children to the great wonders of the nation. A good hike is almost universally the best way to take in what a national park has to offer, and the good news is that almost no kiddo is too young to hike. From family hikes in Acadia to a hikes in the Rocky Mountains fit for kids, the following are some of the best national park hikes that the country has to offer families. So, pack your duffel and vamanos!
1.) Blue Mesa (Petrified Forest National Park)
The painted hills of the southwest look like a celestial artist dip-dyed them in gorgeous tones of sky blue, lavender, and rose. South of them, petrified trees hundreds of millions of years old are also swiped in watercolor shades. Dinosaurs used to roam this wizened forest, and Native tribes once called the area home as well. There are a number of short trails that show off the splendor of Petrified Forest, but Blue Mesa gives you a one-mile loop around the pastel sandstone that is both jaw-droppingly scenic and easy on little legs.
2.) Trails Along Redwood Creek (Muir Woods National Monument)
Prepare to be stunned by the epic scope of nature at this Californian park, where enormous coast redwoods soar up to 250 feet above the ground, creating an Amazonian canopy between you and the sun above. At 14-feet wide, these are trees that are intended for group-hugging, not solo encounters! On average, these trees are 600-800 years old—a fact that will surely stun and delight everyone in the family. A number of paved trails along Redwood Creek make for easy walking and the overwhelming feeling of treading on holy ground beneath a cathedral of timber.
What to bring: Keep your hands free and your camera ready with a waist pack, that way you can hug the trees alongside your kids, but also snap plenty of photos along the way.
3.) Kilauea Iki Trail(Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park)
Offering ten different hiking trails over a landscape unlike anything else in the U.S., visiting Hawai’i Volcanoes is a thrilling and unforgettable experience. The park is home to one of Earth’s most active volcanoes, which gives it a cachet all its own. The four-mile Kilauea Iki Trail takes you across widely varying landscapes, from a lush rainforest to a hardened, but still steaming lava lake remaining from a 1959 lava flow. When your children’s friends share what they did on their summer vacation, walking across lava is going to be tough to top!
What to bring: You’ll have to fly to get to Hawaii, so be sure to pack a sturdy carry-on bag. And for the hike, the terrain is a little more wild and the hike’s longer than some, so use National Geographic Adventure Daypack to hold enough hiking essentials for the entire family.
4.) Acadia Mountain Trail (Acadia National Park)
Sporting 41 miles of rugged Atlantic shoreline, Acadia offers something that no other national park does, probably because it’s the sole national park specimen in the Northeast. Acadia Mountain is low and takes only an hour to hike, making it a great “starter hike” for kids. From the peak, you can look down and see the lobster boats at anchor in Southwest Harbor. Everything in Acadia is scaled down, making it the ideal park for all-generations family exploration!
What to bring: Family hikes in Acadia are perfect for new hikers, so you can even help the kids learn good hiking etiquette by carrying their own sling backpack and water—then help them carry out any trash you generate (and maybe pick up any you find along the way!).
5.) Adams Falls Loop Trail (Rocky Mountain National Park)
Sprawling over 415 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park is almost overwhelming in its reach and magnitude. Luckily, specific trails fit for families make for digestible bits of what the area has to offer. Near the town of Grand Lake is a trail that brings the hiker to the splendor of Adams Falls. It’s mild enough for even toddlers to manage, and the view is mindblowing. When you’re done, hop in the car for the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States.
What to bring: Packing cubes make family road trips a lot easier—use a color per child to keep their snacks organized so you can easily refuel yourselves before venturing on the area’s scenic hikes.
Eagle Creek’s family-friendly travel gear is built in partnership with National Geographic to help you and your families explore the national parks—and the world. So, pack your bags and venture into the unknown.
Related Eagle Creek Products:
National Geographic Adventure Waist Pack
National Geographic Adventure 30L Daypack
National Geographic Adventure Duffel 60L
Related Links (from the Eagle Creek blog):
What to Pack for a National Park Trip
3 Educational Trips the Family Will Actually Enjoy
By Shannon O'Donnell on May 14, 2019
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008 budgeting her way around the world. She travels slowly and supports responsible tourismalong the way, winning numerous awards for her work advocating for developing communities.