National Parks are my family’s favorite summer destinations. Currently, there are 62 National Parks to explore throughout the United States. Each one has a unique ecosystem, defining geological features, and plenty of outdoor activities to participate in. We never run out of areas to discover within the National Parks.
We plan to visit at least one National Park each year and it is a goal to eventually see all of them. I am including a list of the parks we have visited so far but we have a long way to go to achieve our goal.
- Channel Islands
- Glacier Bay
- Kenai Fjords
- Grand Canyon
- Great Sand Dunes
- Rocky Mountain
- Indiana Dunes
- Mammoth Cave
- Gateway Arch
Mike and I dream about camping for three months to hit up all the parks in California + the Southwest, but we haven’t made any plans yet.
It was early spring when we decided to take our family to Yellowstone for our summer vacation. Since we wanted to stay inside the park and didn’t plan ahead enough, we had to choose our vacation days around when accommodations were available. We ended up staying in the Mammoth Springs Hotel one night and two nights at the Lake Lodge Cabins. It worked out fine since we planned our days around the areas we were staying in. If I would have planned further ahead we would have extended the amount of days we stayed inside the park.
This experience has taught me to plan out our visits the summer before and research when the accommodations I want open up for reservations. Some reservations can be made a year before the date and some open up January of the year we will be traveling.
If I know we will be heading to a family event within a reasonable distance of a National Park; I try to extend our stay to squeeze in enough time to explore the park. Enjoying the outdoors with family always creates fun memories.
off the beaten path
Our family is definitely not the only one exploring National Parks. The parks become very crowded during the summer months. It feels a bit like I am planning a trip to Disney when I am trying to figure out how to beat the crowds within the parks. Thankfully, we are morning people so we always get a early start to the day.
I also look for trails to hike that are not easily accessible or a paved path. In Yellowstone, we definitely did a lot of the boardwalks, but we also hiked less popular trails where we didn’t see many people. Some trails would be busy at the trailhead but the crowds thinned quickly.
I read about the Firehole River Swimming area on the west side of Yellowstone which is the only place you can swim within the National Park. I thought this place would be packed but we were one of three families that were enjoying the water. This swimming area is off the beaten path which means most people don’t add it to their itinerary.
I make sure we hit the must-see features of the park early in the morning, and then we head to the less popular areas when everyone else is hitting up the main attractions.
junior Ranger program
One of the first stops, when we arrive at the National Park, is the Visitor’s Center. There we pick up a Junior Ranger Booklet that each of the girls complete during the days we are exploring. These booklets teach concepts and include activities to help kids understand the history, geological features, animals, ecosystems of the park.
After the kids complete the number of pages required, they turn their booklets in at a Visitor’s Center to a Ranger. The Ranger goes through the booklet and usually asks the girls questions about what they learned and how to take care of our beautiful parks. Then the girls recite a Junior Ranger pledge and are given a badge specific to the park.
My girls are collecting their badges and pins as keepsakes of our travels. Adelynn displays her badges on her wall. Heidi and Elyse each have a ranger vest that they put their badges on. It is a fun token to remember our trips by.
I have had to send in the booklets if our visit was too quick for the girls to complete it. The booklets usually have an address on the back. We have then received the badges via mail.
The Jr. Ranger Program adds an additional element of fun and learning to our visit. I strongly recommend checking the program out.
National Parks are a great vacation destination since there is so much to explore and discover. Some of our best memories come from these trips. We still all laugh about how Elyse pinched her nose for almost our entire visit to Yellowstone because of the sulfur smell. We all pat ourselves on the back for conquering the Uncle Tom’s trail near Yellowstone falls which was 328 stairs down to a beautiful waterfall but then right back up all those stairs. Elyse was four years old and managed the trail on her own.
I am ready to add another National Park to the visited list. Where should we go next?
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