20 Really Cool Things Your Kids Can Do in National Parks

Things Your Kids Can Do in National ParksI was halfway through writing this post when I realized that only six months ago I wrote a similar post, 25 Things to Do in a National Park. Well guess what, while those things are must-do’s, these new things are really cool as the title of this blog post suggests. 🙂

Clearly I love national parks and I love finding and sharing fun things you can do with your kids in our national parks. I’m also kind of addicted to reading up on our national parks right now because this summer we’ll be visiting at least 10 on our epic cross-country family road trip. So. Excited.

Before I get to the 20 really cool things your kids can do in our national parks, just a couple of quick tips. First, check out The 10 Best of Everything National Parks from National Geographic. I have this book and I love it. Also, visit OhRanger.com and download their free ParkFinder app. These are all great resources to help you explore national parks as a family. Now, check out my 20 faves for your kids.

20 Things Your Kids Can Do In National Parks

1. Become a Young Scientist. At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, kids can check out a Young Scientist Toolkit, which includes a thermometer, stopwatch and more, to investigate the area around Old Faithful. Also, pick up and complete an activity booklet to earn a Young Scientist patch or key chain.

2. Go on a Cave Tour. At Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, kids will love the Trog Tour (for kids ages 8-12) since they get to put on hard hats and head lamps to explore inside the caves. An Introduction to Caving Tour is also available for kids ages 10 and up with their parents.

3. Take a Scenic Train Ride. Get a new perspective on your park visit by taking a scenic train ride, like the one offered at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Another fun idea is Bike Aboard where you’ll bike the Towpath Trail in one direction, then hop on the train for the return back to your car. 

cuyahoga valley scenic train ride

4. Become a Junior Smokejumper. Just outside Yellowstone National Park, children ages six and up can learn about smokejumpers and fire-fighting. Kids can check out the equipment used and get briefed on what’s required to take on land fires in this two-hour Junior Smokejumper program.

5. Go on a Full Moon Ranger Hike. Several national parks, including Bryce Canyon in Utah and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, offer full moon ranger hikes or walks. These popular nocturnal adventures are a fun way to explore the parks and wildlife as you seek out the best views of the full moon.

6. Go Sledding on a Sand Dune. At White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, kids can sled down any one of the many sand dunes on a snow saucer. Bring your own saucer or buy one for $15 in the gift shop at the park (note: you’ll get back $5 if you return the sled when you’re finished sledding). 

white sands sledding

7. Try a Night Sky Program. Several national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, offer night sky programs. Kids will love using high-powered telescopes to see planets and constellations. Some parks have dark sky festivals during the summer with hikes and hands-on activities.

8. Do a Triathlon. I’m sure a triathlon never popped into your plans for visiting national parks, but at Everglades National Park in Florida, families can do the Tamiami Trail Triathlon, which includes a 15-mile bike loop, a three-mile hike and 3.5 miles of paddling in a kayak or canoe.

9. Enjoy a Snorkeling Adventure. Head to Biscayne National Park in Florida, the only underwater national park in the United States, for a morning or afternoon of snorkeling. If you don’t want to get wet, try a glass-bottom boat trip to explore the coral reefs as a family.

biscayne national park - glass bottom boat

10. Become a Junior Paleontologist. At Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, kids can learn about fossils and complete fun activities to earn a Junior Paleontologist badge. Kids can also earn this badge at Badlands National Park in South Dakota, as well as any national park that preserves fossils.

11. Try a Free Photography Walk. At Yosemite National Park in California, kids can take part in a free camera walk to get tips and advice on taking pictures of the scenery and wildlife. This one-hour hands-on workshop will help kids take better photos and see the park in new ways.

12. Enjoy a Tidepool Walk. At Redwood National Park in California, spend two hours on a ranger-led tidepool walk. Kids will love hunting for sea creatures as the ranger teaches them all about life in the sea and sea life to be found at low tide. Also, try Olympic National Park in Washington for good tidepooling.

tidepooling - redwood national park

13. Become a Junior Geologist. At Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, kids can earn a Junior Geologist patch between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Children will learn about geology, erosion and colorful rock layers at the park. Also, look for ranger-led programs on rocks and geology during your visit.

14. Build Sand Castles. Not all visits to national parks involve hiking, mountains and very tall trees. At Acadia National Park in Maine, hike, bike, kayak or build sand castles at Sand Beach or Echo Lake Beach. You can build sand castles at White Sands too, though you may need to bring your own water.

15. Go on a Mule Ride. At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, sign up for a mule trip at the South Rim or North Rim. Plan ahead because mule trips are booked up to 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. Ride into the Grand Canyon with kids while learning about geology, native peoples and the Colorado River.

mule trip - grand canyon

16. Enjoy a Geology Scavenger Hunt. Take the Geology Challenge at Badlands National Park to see if you can find Sod Table and Hoodoo. Study up on geologic formations so you can easily complete the scavenger hunt. Also, stop in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center for exhibits and hands-on activities.

17. Try a Cell Phone Audio Tour. I know I don’t need to tell you that kids love electronics, especially cell phones. At the Grand Canyon, kids can use your phone to learn about points of interest when they see Park Ranger Audio Tour signs. Kids will love using technology to learn more about the Grand Canyon.

18. Snowshoe with a Park Ranger. It’s fun to explore national parks in new and different ways in the winter months. At Rocky Mountain National Park, sign up for a free two-hour snowshoe ecology walk. You’ll need to bring your own snowshoes, but you can rent a pair in nearby Estes Park.

snowshoeing tour

19. Go Horseback Riding. Many parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana, offer horseback trail rides to experience wilderness trails. This is a fun way to enjoy the parks from a new vantage point, like three or four feet up from the ground. A two-hour ride is generally plenty for kids.

20. Try Geocaching. Lots of national parks offer geocaching adventures in which you seek out treasures that have been hidden in the parks. Or, try EarthCaching, which is like geocaching only it involves finding caches that the earth has created, rather than treasures left by other game players.

Of course, you’ll also want to earn Junior Ranger badges and get your passport stamped when you visit new national parks. It’s a must to check out family fun packs too. These are offered at many visitors centers and include items like naturalist guides and magnifying glasses.

Ready to tackle all the cool things your kids can do in National Parks? Before you go, be sure to get your National Parks Checklist to keep track of which parks you’ve visited and which parks you still need to explore. 

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