7 national parks you really should take your kids to

It’s so important to encourage kids today to break free from their digital bubble, open their eyes to the world and get after it.

Here are seven national parks to visit with your kids — equipped with scenery and activities so spectacular that even the surliest of youth will be persuaded to get off the iPad and into the great outdoors.

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Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Valley. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
California’s Yosemite Valley. Photo: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock
Sure, it’s an obvious choice, but Yosemite National Park in California is famous for good reason.

With millions of visitors descending on the park each year, it is also one of the most developed. You won’t be all alone in the woods, but that’s what makes it so easy to visit with kids.

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Yosemite Valley offers free bus shuttles, paved hikes that are stroller friendly, bike rentals, guided Junior Ranger programs and plenty of eating options that make visiting a breeze.

The trickiest part is landing a lodging reservation; plan more than a year ahead for your best options in the Valley itself. Those looking for the splendor without all the crowds should avoid the busiest summer months or plan to spend time outside of the Valley near Tuolumne Meadows or Hetch Hetchy.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

An ancient Bristlecone pine in the shadow of Wheeler Peak. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
An ancient bristlecone pine in the shadow of Wheeler Peak. Photo: Dave Rock/Shutterstock
Located four hours southwest of Salt Lake City, on the central and eastern edge of Nevada, Great Basin National Park is everything Yosemite isn’t.

The park receives less than 100,000 visitors a year and is largely undeveloped; even the roads are mostly unpaved.

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A memorable trip to the park should include a visit underground with a 60-minute tour of Lehman Caves, a hike to the bristlecone pine grove below majestic 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak and a night of camping under the brightest stars in the West.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Ridge after ridge of mist and moodiness in the Great Smokey Mountains. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Ridge after ridge of mist and moodiness in the Great Smokey Mountains. Photo: Dave Allen Photography/Shutterstock
Contrary to what many Californians would think, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is actually the United States’ most-visited park, with more than eight million people stopping by a year.

Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, ridge after ridge of mountains and forest play home to a multitude of animal and plant species.

Check out the Sugarlands Visitor Center for accessible hiking on the Newfound Gap Road. Or, for a more historical perspective on the area, check out some of the log structures near the Cades Cove or Cataloochee visitor centers.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Acadia National Park. Photo: Aeypix/Shutterstock
Desolate and rocky coasts, epic bicycling, rock climbing and fall foliage that will make your jaw drop are all part of a visit to Acadia National Park.

Kids will especially enjoy tide pooling at the Bar Island Sand Bar or a visit to the nature center at Sieur de Monts Spring.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Badlands of South Dakota. Photo: Courtesy of Shutterstock
The Badlands of South Dakota. Photo: welcomia/Shutterstock
Take a drive across the country on Interstate 90 and you’ll come face to face with the Badlands of South Dakota. Consisting of 244,000 acres of rugged beauty, the Badlands are a must-visit national park for anyone interested in geology and fossils. The park’s eroded soft sedimentary rock spires and gullies are home to one of the richest fossil beds in the world. Kids can imagine they’ll find a dinosaur or saber-tooth cat fossil on every hike. Parents will love the solitude, vistas and glimpse into Native American history surrounding the park.

Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. Photo: tusharkoley/Shutterstock
If you’ve ever seen a Utah license plate, then you’ve seen the world-famous Delicate Arch that stands balanced in Arches National Park outside of Moab.

And while that arch is worth a look, contrary to the guidebook recommendations, the 2-mile hike to the upper viewing area is not for the acrophobic — or those with a wandering toddler.

Instead, spend some time checking out the multiple viewing areas that are accessible by car, or schedule a guided hike into the Fiery Furnace with one of the park’s knowledgeable rangers.

Olympic National Park, Washington

The desolate beaches of Olympic National Park are a dream for kids and parents alike. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
The desolate beaches of Olympic National Park are a dream for kids and parents alike. Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock
Remotely located on the tip of Washington state, Olympic National Park’s one million acres encompass snow-capped peaks, dense rainforest and a desolate and rocky shoreline that is sure to captivate any visitor.

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For kids, we suggest a day trip to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center and a hike on the surrounding trails. Or, for a beachside overnight, park at the Ozette Lake trailhead and backpack to Cape Alava or Sand Point.

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